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Review: The 39 Steps is good medicine

Bagpipes, gunshots, handcuffs--what could happen? Heaps of silly fun awaits in the latest offering from Walterdale Theatre.

There's a common theme in theatre around town in recent months--frivolity, fun, silliness: people need to laugh after the past couple of years of pandemic-induced anxiety, and the show selections reflect that sentiment--from Mamma Mia! at the Mayfield Dinner Theatre to Peter Pan Goes Wrong and 9 to 5 at The Citadel Theatre.

Edmonton's Walterdale Theatre--a stalwart of the community theatre scene-- is on board the fun train too, with its latest production of The 39 Steps, a fast-paced murder mystery that offers theatre-goers a respite from whatever else is happening in the world--and that feels exactly like the point, after all. It's what all theatre does best; taking an audience into another world, and director Kristen Finlay has just the right touch in bringing to life a two-time Tony and Drama Desk Award-winning play for Edmonton audiences with a 'let's have a good laugh' attitude toward it all.

There's a lot to unpack in what could be a confusing melee of 150 wacky characters--(played with dedication by an energetic cast of six) and a 2.5-hour story that includes gunshots, strobe lighting, a plane crash, escape from a moving train, and plenty of police chase foolery. In her director's notes, Finlay acknowledges this 'little' show is not so little. The characters, costume changes, sound and light cues are many, and it's a credit to those who pull it all together seamlessly and quickly--I always appreciate an efficient set change!

Set in England/Scotland in the 1930, The 39 Steps is a Patrick Barlow adaptation of the John Buchan novel and the Alfred Hitchcock film--got that? A Hitchcock-like mood is created with lighting, music, costume, language and accents. And there are many accents flying around the stage, some better than others, but all understandable (mostly) and fun. I counted German, cockney, upper class British and shouty Scottish among the mix in ridiculous--and funny--situations. Scenes in the Scottish hotel are especially funny, with clowns/innkeepers (played in role-reversed, super-silly fashion by Bradley Bishop and Samantha Beck) shouting Scottish brogue something or other at the hapless couple-on-the-run.

The story revolves around Richard Hannay, a Brit who didn't stab the lady in his apartment but is now being hunted down for the crime. But who's the real bad guy, (it's actually easy to tell), and who are the other wacky characters getting in the way as the witless hero tries to escape and/or clear his name? 

Lucas Anders fits the part of Hannay perfectly, from his Clark Gable-esque head of dark, wavy locks, hazel eyes and pencil moustache to his charming smile and way with the lady (well played by Lauren Tamke who switches wigs, costumes and accents with aplomb). The pair is especially cute in the handcuffed-together scenes, whether they're trying to remove a pair of stockings, sleep or escape through the moors. 

The busy cast of four clowns take on all the other characters in the show--sheep blocking the Scottish roadway, police officers, fighter pilots, bagpipe players and palladium performers etc. Rico Pisco and Liam McKinnon join the other clowns for what amounts to a real physical workout as well as an entertaining effort. 

Lucky us, the audience is the beneficiary of it all. Take a break from the rest of your life for a couple of hours, and enjoy this silly romp.

The 39 Steps is onstage May 11-21 at Walterdale Theatre, 10322 – 83rd Avenue NW. See walterdaletheatre.com for ticket information.