Review: The 39 Steps at Harrogate Theatre

Wednesday 11th September 2019 at Harrogate Theatre.


The 39 Steps is a comic classic by any standard. It sees a dashingly handsome Dapper Dan unwittingly caught up in a high stakes caper in which dodgy spies wear many disguises and innocent civilians like our stylish looker must go on the run (attached to an equally attractive woman, naturally). Adapted by Patrick Barlow from Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon’s original concept, The 39 Steps is an energetic adventure full of tally ho gusto, tongue-in-cheek gags and a fair amount of proudly outlandish clownery.

After a rather relaxed start, Chris Jordan directs to a rip roaring pace here and for the most part manages to impressively maintain momentum across high energy sequences which see the very best of gleefully silly comedy gaining big laughs. The train charade in particular is a real winner – as is the window gag which has always been my favourite. The very best thing about this show is its celebration of physical comedy and the power of the imagination in conjuring stage ‘sorcery’ without the trappings of disguising the tricks in any way – somehow seeing the rickety realities always lands more comically – far more entertaining!

Oliver Mellor is a perfect lead as Richard Hannay, all latest fashions and moustache oil with a charming brand of coy indignation when faced with various dangers and tiresome interference from those darn villains. He’s joined by Anna Clarke who provides the second half to what quickly becomes an accident prone double act of bickering runaways.

All cast members play numerous roles aside from Mellor and in Clarke we find German spy Annabella Schmidt, under-appreciated wife of stroppy Scot Margaret (arguably her best character here) and of course our glamorous and highly strung Pamela who finds herself caught up in the whole debacle without ever really understanding the details of it all poor dear.

Speaking of double acts, Philip Stewart and Ross Walton are our fantastic clowning double act and they are great fun to watch, with Stewart being particularly great across all of the roles he dons. The pair impress in all their super quick changes, unexpected switcheroonies and general thousand mile an hour character shifts because their performances are rammed with accents, voices, costume changes aplenty and some aptly chosen token physical shifts to boot. How they keep track of who they’re playing and what they should be up to at any given time is all part of the runaway charm of the production. 

Our clowns never miss a beat and happen to have that very winning quality of showing us just how much fun they’re having without undermining the roles they’re playing – and that offers up an infectious sense of enjoyment which simply raises the comedy further across the performance.

As the final show in the Harrogate Theatre Rep Company’s season, it’s easy to see this production as an ambitious last hurrah until next year. It’s pacy and jolly good fun thanks to a cast with strong funny bones playing great characters caught up in this merry go round of peril and national secrets escaping the country. It’s definitely worth seeing if you’re a fan of nostalgic RP characters, quirky slapstick and general skilful silliness delivered with great gleeful pomp!

The 39 Steps plays Harrogate Theatre until September 14th 2019 and you can find tickets here.

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