Edinburgh Upstaged by Kilburn
So thank heavens, then, for The 39 Steps, which started its month long run at the bijou Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn. That is, before it likely heads to the West End, if last night's ovation was anything to go by. The Tricycle has all the signs of doing for The 39 Steps ,what the Menier Chocolate Factory did for Sunday in the Park with George. And don't we like to play 'told you so'.
The 39 Steps is a stage adaptation of John Buchan's 1915 classic novel, The Thirty-Nine Steps, turned film classic by Hitchcock's 1935 movie of the same name, oft-regarded as one of his best. The basic premise of the story being that of an innocent man who learns too much about a dangerous spy ring and is then pursued across Scotland, before returning to London to foil the villain's dastardly plans. An obvious plot for adaptation by film producers, but less so for stage ones. And it is precisely the lunacy of trying to translate a fast moving, suspenseful chase caper to the stage that makes the Tricycle's production so ingenious.
I don't want to give away much more than the basic gist: the cast is comprised of four characters, playing between them, what the production notes suggest are 150 roles. The protagonist, Richard Hannay, is brilliantly acted by Charles Edwards who expertly maintains a stiff upper lip but who is endearingly likeable. The 'girl' is played by Catherine McCormack, who played opposite Mel Gibson in Braveheart. She is brilliant as a Felicity Shagwell meets Jessica Rabbit character transported to 30s film noir. The other two male characters are a joy as a double act and pop up wherever Hannay goes.
The 39 Steps sweeps you off your feet, and touches you down in Edinburgh, 1935. Which given Easyjet prices to the Fringe, it is as close as most of us will get to Scotland this August. The audience loved it including, I suspect, Dawn French and Lenny Henny who were sitting behind me. I would venture to put my money where my mouth is, and offer to refund anybody's ticket who doesn't come out as gushingly enthusiastic. But, seats start at £8.50 so I wouldn't insult you. That is, before the likely transfer to the West End, when you will have to add a four before the eight.
And for those put off by a journey to Kilburn. 3 words: Get over it. Kilburn is on the favoured Jubilee Line, and so near the centre, it won't be long before estate agents are calling it North Marylebone.
The Tricycle also boasts a brilliant art gallery come cafe, with a lovely French cook who prepares fresh bits for a light snack. And there is a theatre bar that is open for pre and post show drinks as well as a nip during the interval.
www.tricycle.co.uk or 0 207 328 1000. The show runs to 9th September, but last night was a sell out, and that is before reviews in the broadsheets, the Evening Standard, or Time Out. Oh, and Zadie Smith and her writer husband Nick Laird live down the street from the theatre. So bring along a copy of On Beauty, because you may just get an Autograph Man.