However, Theatrix, Phuket’s vibrant theatre group, prove that it’s time this stereotype died a slow, dramatic, on-stage death with their recent production of The 39 Steps.
The collective CV of the cast attests to how the line dividing professional and amateur theatre is becoming increasingly blurred. Their appearances on stage and on screen, in prestigious theatres and in well-loved films and TV series, span decades and continents. All this came together for two sold-out nights at creative arts hub Underwood Art Factory on June 1 and 2.
The 39 Steps is actor and playwright Patrick Barlow’s 2005 parody adaptation of John Buchan’s 1915 spy thriller novel and Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film of the same name. The plot follows protagonist Richard Hannay as he traverses Scotland to avoid being framed for a murder he didn’t commit while also attempting to take down the 39 Steps, an organisation of spies plotting to reveal British state secrets.
Audiences are transported to the Scottish Highlands by an inventive shadow puppetry display. The accents don’t quite make it so far north but that quickly becomes part of the fun. The Underwood family do a fantastic job in recreating a Flying Scotsman-style train carriage that nearly fills the length of the stage and even gently rocks as it chugs along imaginary tracks.
With just four actors playing a total of 30 characters, even playing multiple roles in the same scene, this is Theatrix’s most ambitious and challenging performance to date for actors and technical crew alike. Remarkably, they pull off lightning-quick character, costume, prop, light and sound changes without a hitch. What was that about amateur theatre…?
The plot moves at the same pace, swinging pendulously between moments of edge-of-your-seat suspense and laugh-out-loud madcap hilarity. The venue is in one moment frozen in deathly silence and in another erupting in raucous laughter. Such juxtaposition has earned the play the tagline ‘Alfred Hitchcock meets Monty Python’. The Theatrix offering leans closer to the latter, especially during the train scene which sees actors Joel Adams and Jesse Todd – Clown 1 and 2 – play a conductor, a policeman and countless passengers, effortlessly switching hats and spinning across the stage as they do so. They capture the contained chaos of Python perfectly and are rightly rewarded with a huge round of applause.
Tony Edwards, who plays Richard Hannay, is the only actor to take on one singular role and in that way offers the audience some consistency. He is the rock of the performance – and indeed portrays the character’s sometimes stony allure – as pandemonium unfolds around him. His monologues are well-delivered and become the most poignant moments of the show.
Simona Grumezea is a similarly powerful on-stage presence, not only as the seductive spy Annabella Smith – the catalyst for Richard’s plight – but as the more timid, sheltered Scottish farmer’s wife Margaret too. Her portrayal of Annabella is convincing; a thick, enigmatic accent sets the scene for espionage.
Plans are in place to bring The 39 Steps back later this year. Be sure to get a ticket. Comedy, drama, suspense and intrigue are only a step away.