Theatre UNB’s production of The 39 Steps is a deliciously dizzying experience that thrusts the audience into a maze of thrilling twists and turns, aided by the quick-fire dialogue and physical comedy employed by it’s minimal cast.
This interpretation of Patrick Barlow’s play is the latest addition to an illustrious past, having been adapted from the Hitchcock movie of the same name, which was adapted from the Scottish novel The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan.
The students from UNB’s Drama 3170 class outdid themselves, with 4 students covering a cast list of over 50 characters, the same way the play is presented in larger companies. The cast work to tell the story of Richard Hannay, and his journey into espionage. Hannay is barraged with mysterious love interests and exuberant villains, all the while fumbling through various sticky situations as he searches for the elusive “39 Steps.”
Jean-Michel Cliche directed this production, and explained that it requires the cast to, “rely really heavily on each other.” This show embraces the chaotic nature of the story, often writing mistakes into the script, and embracing the fumbles that inevitably happen during live productions. For instance, during a scene when two characters were being handcuffed together, the handcuffs broke, leading to an improvised addition to the script. Cliche acknowledged that this comes down to the amount of trust between the cast, and it “suddenly became this fun opportunity to keep playing within the world.”
Attention must also be paid to the crew, who worked alongside the cast to transform the stage from an English apartment, to a moving car, to the Irish countryside. Even when things didn't go as planned, the performance continued, and the audience was blissfully unaware of what mishaps were written into the script and what wasn’t.
Overall, this production brought unique and interesting elements to a well-loved play, and a welcome opportunity to distract from a bleak, New Brunswick winter. While The 39 Steps is no longer playing, stay tuned for the upcoming productions put on at the UNB Art Center. So, whether you are looking to check out some local talent, or just escape from your meaningless student existence, be sure to get out and support Theatre UNB!