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Brendan Murray, Jacob James, Amy Sellors. Photo: Hollie Stewart
Brendan Murray, Jacob James, Amy Sellors. Photo: Hollie Stewart

Theatre Review: "The 39 Steps" at the 1000 Islands Playhouse

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The Springer Theatre at the 1000 Islands Playhouse in Gananoque has opened their season with THE 39 STEPS, running through June 12. Resident theatre critic Connie Meng was at the final preview and has this review.

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Connie Meng
Theatre Critic

The 1000 Islands Playhouse in Gananoque has opened their season in the Springer Theatre with the Canadian Premiere of the comedy/mystery THE 39 STEPS.  Based on the 1915 spy thriller by John Buchan and the 1935 Hitchcock film, this stage version adapted by Patrick Barlow retains the spy plot.  The comedy comes from the fact that all the characters, about 100 of them, are all played by only four actors.  This leads to some very funny lightning fast character and costume changes.  There are even times when an actor plays two different characters in the same scene.

Elizabeth Nutting's set is ingenious and flexible.  Basically a cut-away of a library including a library ladder, it morphs in about 30 seconds to various locations including a train.  Tim Fort's excellent lighting highlights the action.  I'm not sure who's responsible for the search plane, but it's a hoot.

Miss Nutting's costumes are also good, especially those for the Scottish innkeepers and Pamela's shoes, although the seams of Annabella's bias-cut gown could use a good pressing.  The sound by Adair Redish is very good, and I was impressed by Scott Davey's original and atmospheric music.

Brendan Murray is an excellent Richard Hannay, the innocent man sucked into the spy milieu.  The only character to remain throughout, he does a fine job with his opening monologue and political speech.  In spite of all the mayhem he creates a consistent and believable character, while also displaying impressive athletic ability.

Amy Sellors is triple cast as Annabella, the femme fatale, Margaret, a country wife, and Pamela, a rather prudish working girl.  She does a nice job, but seems to be most comfortable with Margaret.  Billed as Clown 2, Matt Gibson is at his best with bombastic characters such as a Nazi and a politician.  Of course, he gets plenty of giggles as the Scottish innkeeper's wife.

Jacob James, whose work I've admired ever since his be-feathered Ariel in the 2005 Stratford production of THE TEMPEST, is just plain terrific as Clown 1.  I could go down the list of his characters beginning with the mind reader Mr. Magic, but suffice it to say they're all very good and very funny.

Director Dayna Tekatch has done a great job of directing and staging THE 39 STEPS.  Annabella's death scene, the "All Aboard" scene on the train and especially the contortions with the handcuffs are all very clever.  The pace is nippy and, although at times the plot gets a bit lost, as my companion said, it's just a lot of fun.  Although I was unable to get to the opening, at the final preview everything seemed to be up and running smoothly.  It's a lively opener that bodes well for the season at the 1000 Islands Playhouse.

On a scale of one to five the 1000 Islands Playhouse production of THE 39 STEPS gets four and one third fish.  For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.




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