facebook play-alt chevron-thin-right chevron-thin-left cancel location info chevron-thin-down star-full help-with-circle calendar images mail whatsapp directions_car directions_bike train directions_walk directions_bus close spinner11

The 39 Steps

First Published 17 April 2008, Last Updated 22 April 2008

Reproducing an action-filled adventure film for the stage is a daunting task for anyone, but Patrick Barlow’s comical adaptation of John Buchan's The 39 Steps, which opened last night at the Criterion following a successful run at the Tricycle, fits the bill with its fast pace, four-person cast and knowing comical nods to the theatre's limits. Kathryn Merritt attended the first night and was swept along with the action.

The play begins with our dashing hero, the charmingly snobbish bachelor Richard Hannay (a brilliantly deadpan Charles Edwards), pondering what to do with his evening. He’s after something "mindless and trivial", and decides, "I know, a West End play!" Little does he know that the events that unfold after attending the play will be anything but trivial.

Hannay is accused of a murder he didn't commit (of Catherine McCormack's femme fatale, Annabella Schmidt) and subsequently goes on the run from a German spy ring – the eponymous organisation, the '39 Steps' – to Scotland, all the while trying to clear his name. Along the way he encounters myriad characters, including a cheeky milkman, an eccentric couple who live on a remote Scottish farm, lingerie salesmen, detectives, cops, Scottish dancers, a mumbling election chairman, a sinister German professor and an icy blonde, to name but a few.

With just four actors playing more than 150 roles, the narrative is told at breakneck speed. Rupert Degas and Simon Gregor play the majority of characters – an astounding 146 in total – and deftly handle the task, with lightning-quick changes of accents, costume and props. Special mention must also go to Director Maria Aitken and Movement Director Toby Sedgwick for staging the near-impossible feats of a chase across the top of a moving train, a bi-plane crash, a frantic pursuit across the foggy moors of Scotland and the scaling of the Forth Bridge; all handled by the actors without the help of fancy props and technology.

Of the three film versions of John Buchan's classic novel, Alfred Hitchcock's 1935 offering is considered the best. Barlow's adaptation (based on an original concept by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon) is most faithful to Hitchcock's version, and the actors make it their own at the Criterion. em>KM


Sign up

Related articles

Due to the current pandemic various venues and productions are making announcements for their individual shows. Please bear with us as we try to keep this page as up to date as possible. If you find a mistake, please let us know by emailing enquiries@soltukt.co.uk. If you click through to seat selection (where you'll see either best available or a seating plan), you will be seeing the most up-to-date prices. If this differs from what we've written on the calendar, please bear with us, as those prices will update soon.

We now sell our famous TKTS Booth discounts online here at Official London Theatre.

We are now cancelling all performances up until and including 31 May 2020 to help us process existing bookings whilst we wait for further clarity from the government in terms of when we will be able to reopen.

We are so sorry that in these testing and difficult times you are not able to enjoy the show you have booked for and hope the following helps clarify next steps in respect of your tickets .

There is nothing that you need to do if your performance has been cancelled, but we do ask for your patience.

If you have booked directly with the theatre or show website for an affected performance, please be assured that they will contact you directly to arrange an exchange for a later date, a credit note/voucher or a refund. If you have booked via a ticket agent they will also be in contact with you directly.

We are processing in strict date order of performance, so you are likely to be contacted after the date you were due to go to the theatre. However, we want to reassure you that you will be contacted, and your order will be processed, but please do bear with us.

We’d like to thank everyone who has been patient and kind in dealing with their ticket providers so far and we are sorry that we cannot process your order as quickly as we would like.

Please do not contact your credit card company as that will slow the process down and put an additional burden on our box office and ticket agent teams.

In order for us to serve our audiences the best we can, please do not get in touch with your point of sale if you have booked for performances after 31 May. Please be reassured that if we have to cancel future performances you will be directly contacted by your theatre or ticket provider. Our producers continue to plan for all eventualities dependent on the individual needs of their shows and we will provide further updates on specific shows as and when they become available.

We look forward to welcoming you back into our theatres as soon as we are allowed to resume performances. In the meantime stay safe and healthy.

While theatres are currently closed, various venues and productions are making announcements for their individual shows, including cancellations and rescheduled performances. Please check with the individual shows for details.