In this well known theatrical adaptation of the 1915 John Buchan novel and 1935 Hitchcock film, a mere 4 performers are called upon to portray in upwards of some 20 various characters over the course of approximately 2 hours. This small ensemble put together by director Cameron Hite, with the assistance of a couple of invaluable stage hands, pulled off a seemingly impossible task. The 39 Steps is a story best told through the actors without lots of fluff in terms of sets and lighting, and this group needed no help in that department. Taylored Venues and Events provided the perfect atmosphere for the simple staging and lighting design that allowed this team to be able to fully develop not only their characters but also the precision and timing required to successfully execute this performance.
For anyone who is unfamiliar, The 39 Steps takes a seemingly serious spy story and plays it primarily for laughs with one actor playing the lead role of the hero, Richard Hannay (Richard Jackson), an actress (in this case, Ashley May King) or occasionally an actor playing the three women with whom the hero becomes romantically entangled at various times, and two other actors commonly referred to as “clowns” (Josh Holley, Zachary Starnes) fulfilling every other role in the production. And believe me when I say that the laughs were never in short supply with this group. The comedic timing of all four cast members was on point from lights up to curtain call and perfectly punctuated with well placed facial expressions, pantomimes, and ad-libs for a little something extra. I don’t know how many of you have attempted to perform raucous or slapstick comedy before, but I am completely amazed by the ability these four have to maintain composure in some of the situations they managed to get themselves in to during the course of their performance.
Not only are quick changes an integral part of this production, but there are moments when the “clowns” will portray multiple characters within a single scene, and even one occasion in which the two “clowns” perform a costume change and thus a character change in mid scene, on stage, right before your very eyes. It sounds as though it would be something very hokey to see and not at all appealing however, Mr. Holley and Mr. Starnes performed the scene and the change so swiftly and skillfully, that it was absolutely something to be remembered. Ms. King was able to play her three roles so well that each one was easily distinguishable from the others. While the changes in costume were obvious signs that her character had changed, Ms. King had also put great effort into developing the characters themselves. The facial expressions and postures alone were enough to tell you that you were getting ready to be introduced to some new level of insanity (in the best sense of the word). The only constant throughout the show is Mr. Jackson’s portrayal of the hero, Richard Hannay. Which, in a way, almost seems unfair. While King, Holley, and Starnes get to have all the fun changing costumes, donning wigs, and mixing up accents, Jackson maintains a single character for the entirety of the performance. But if he found that to be boring at any point, he certainly did not let it show.
Mr. Jackson did a spectacular job of pushing through the jokes, sight gags, one-liners, and crazy moments to move the story along and keep things progressing. The character of Hannay is vital for this reason and Mr. Jackson delivered not only as motivation to keep the pace and to tell the story but also as a performer himself. His storytelling ability is wonderful, and these moments offered a welcomed respite for audience members to catch their breath and brace themselves for the next onslaught of hilarity.
To sum it up, this show was utterly hilarious and I do wish that I had been able to see it more than once. In my opinion, The State Theatre Company could not have made a better choice when adding this title to their season. This is a group that is quickly making a name for themselves and I do believe there are more amazing performances to be seen in the not so distant future. I am certainly curious to see what additional venues they will utilize in months to come as they work to realize their dream of revitalizing The State Theatre.
Job well done to all involved and I, for one, am looking forward to seeing what is up next from this spectacular group of people.
Nellie Wingfield ♥