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Buchan's 39 Steps, spoof-style by Huddersfield Thespians

It's one of the most famous movies and books, but this version of the 39 Steps is something unexpected.

Huddersfield Thespians rehearsing for 39 Steps. Picture by David Wright

Diehard fans of the 1915 John Buchan novel and classic Hitchcock film The 39 Steps probably won’t like what Huddersfield Thespians are doing with the story.

But the company’s forthcoming production of the stage play, a spoof based on the timeless originals, should have audiences rolling in the aisles.

As Thespians’ director Alistair Cheetham says: “You wouldn’t immediately have thought that the 39 Steps could be hilarious. A man’s framed for murder and on the run – it doesn’t lend itself to humour exactly. But because of the fact that the play is a pastiche of the whole Hitchcock genre, it’s completely and totally daft and very, very funny.”

In the past few months, The Thespians have tackled two serious and thought-provoking dramas – The Thrill of Love about the last woman in the UK hanged for murder and a Taste of Honey, which examined social and cultural issues – but this time they’re going for a full-on chuckle-a-minute romp through melodramatic slapstick and farce.

The 39 Steps, adapted by Patrick Barlow back in 2005 ‘mainly for laughs’, takes the basic tale of a man wronged and turns it into a vehicle for poking gentle fun at other Hitchcock works such as Strangers on a Train, Rear Window, Psycho, Vertigo and North by Northwest. It spent nearly a decade in the West End before closing last year.

It’s a demanding play to stage because the entire cast of heroes, villains, men, women, children and even the occasional inanimate object is played by just four actors. There are no fewer than 30-plus scenes in two acts. And the script calls for a lot of deliberate mistakes.

Alistair says audience members have to ‘suspend their disbelief’. He added: “There’s a completely bonkers scene on a train where one actor is playing six different people. They start a sentence in one character and finish it in another. It’s all very entertaining, but if you are a Buchan purist you might not like it. For Hitchcock fans, you can play ‘spot the Hitchcock line’.”

The 39 Steps will be the Thespians’ only main stage show at the Lawrence Batley Theatre this year and they’re hoping that audiences are ready for some Comedy with a capital C.

In the contemporary stage version, based on the 1935 movie, one actor plays the hero Richard Hannay and an actress (or sometimes an actor) plays the three women he is romantically linked with. The two other cast members, referred to as ‘clown’ in the Pierrot tradition of one male and one female, play everyone else. In this case Hugh Raine is Richard Hannay; Hannah Head plays the various femmes fatales, and the remaining parts are played by Alex Watkins and Laura Womersley.

The show opens at the LBT on Wednesday, June 8, and can be seen until Saturday, June 11. For ticket details visit www.thelbt.org.uk or call 01484 430528.

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