The 39 Steps

Thu 1st – Sat 3rd November 2012


Madeline Ratcliffe

at 10:25 on 2nd Nov 2012



To get to this production of The 39 Steps I would happily have walked 39 miles, let alone steps, to the Assembly Rooms in the bitter cold. It is rare that a student production is such a resounding triumph, especially given the ambition of the play; four actors playing over a hundred characters in scenes ranging from a London theatre to the Scottish moors, with car chases aplenty. Everything about the production was strikingly professional and it was a welcome change not to have a chink in the any aspect of the play; there was not a weak link in the technical crew or cast.

Although Elissa Churchill’s German spy was a rather grating and relentlessly melodramatic, she excelled as the blonde Hitchcock heroine Pamela and the rustic Scotch housewife, displaying spectacular range and wit. Joe Burke’s Hannay was similarly impressive, the one actor who remained the same character throughout- he was a warm and engaging hero and capable of masterful comic subtlety. Churchill and Burke should also be applauded for their nonchalance and terrific recovery after an impromptu handcuff malfunction, which Burke managed to incorporate into the comedy without batting an eyelid. Saving the best till last, Felix Stevenson and Tom McNulty were a comic delight to behold. They were a dream team. As a double act they made up the rest of the cast, making playing three characters at once look effortless and never sloppy; with an amazing understanding of how to transform themselves physically, without costumes, and a tremendous array of accents at their disposal. All the cast displayed a grasp of comic timing, and even harder, physical comedy and slapstick that would make Monty Python proud.

I wish I could mention every single member of the production and technical team by name but there would not be room, so I shall have to content myself by waxing lyrical over the feat they pulled off; the technical effects were the magic ingredient adding a flair and polish to what could easily have become a shambolic mess of scene changes. The whole thing was a credit to the production team, Ben Weaver-Hincks, Felix Stevenson and Alys Drake, who should be feeling very proud indeed at pulling off such a complex piece with such humour and aplomb. Not only did the audience greatly enjoy themselves, but even better, the cast appeared to too.

On leaving the theatre, I heard one theatre-goer say that that was the best performance she had seen in Durham and this certainly would be a persuasive argument. It is enough though that this is a glossy, mad, light-hearted, and extremely funny spoof spy-thriller and well worth a trip to the Assembly Rooms to brighten up a cold November evening.


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