Sunday, August 14, 2016


*** (out of 5)

It’s all a matter of taste.

Take The 39 Steps. The Playbill tells us “it is adapted by Patrick Barlow from the novel by John Buchan from the movie by Alfred Hitchcock.”

A part of the audience found the whole production simply hilarious. Every move, every gesture evoked belly-shaking guffaws. Another part of the audience may have found the performance just as entertaining but they were the quiet, undemonstrative types where laughter is concerned.

 Andrew Shaver, Raquel Duffy, Kawa Ada. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann

There were also some who did not find the thing entertaining at all. Like me.

Barlow’s adaptation, if that is the right word, is based almost entirely on Alfred Hitchcock’s film of 1935 with Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll. Buchan’s book and Hitchcock’s film are substantially different.

Barlow has taken most of the characters from the film and has given all the parts to four actors. His treatment can be called many names that amount to the same thing: a caricature, a parody, a burlesque, a travesty, perhaps. A comic send up, certainly.

Ravi Jain directs Kawa Ada, Raquel Duffy, Anand Rajaram and Andrew Shaver in Soulpepper’s production. Ada plays Richard Hannay, the hero who discovers a plot to destroy England. Duffy plays Annabella, Margaret and Pamela, and Rajaram and Shaver are listed as Clown 2 and Clown 1 respectively.
 Kawa Ada, Anand Rajaram. Photo Cylla von Tiedemann
Examples that the audience found uproariously funny. There is a door on wheels and a character enters it, pushes it along and renters it and repeats the action several more times. A doddering old man pushes a chair with his cane across the stage. An old man is making a speech and cannot be heard. He is told to speak up and he raises his head and speaks to the ceiling.

The performance is made up of actions like these and a good part of the audience roared with approval.

I did not laugh but the actors deserve praise for the frenetic pace that they maintain and the quick character changes that they achieve almost seamlessly. Jain and the actors achieve admirable speed, coordination and impeccable timing that must be recognized.

But in the end it is all a matter of taste.
 The 39 Steps adapted by Patrick Barlow from the novel by John Buchan from the movie by Alfred Hitchcock runs until August 27, 2016 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Tank House Lane, Toronto, Ontario.

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