Sunday, 21 September 2014

Birthmonth Day Twenty-One: The 39 Steps

Seen here as Mr Rugger, an evil landlord.
There’s something awfully familiar about this.

Very briefly I wanted to be a firefighter when I grew up.  Until I discovered that it was possible for firefighters to actually die in fires (I’d thought of them more as superheroes).  Besides which, I have always been incredibly unfit and was aware I wouldn’t cut it.  Let’s face it, I wouldn’t make a good superhero.

So anyway, one year I evidently went to London for a few days and visited The Butler.  Because I managed to take in three shows in three days.  That was very cool.  Anytime he wants to invite me to London and take me round the theatres again, I’m game.

I recall once going to visit him and we wanted to take in a matinee but due to the day we were limited to a choice of two children’s shows.  Either we saw The Railway Children or The Witches.  Obviously we chose The Witches.  Unfortunately it was kinda rubbish.  This trip was a lot more fruitful.

First of all he had some kind of favour to call in, and we got comps to

Noël Coward’s Brief Encounter (adapted for the stage by Emma Rice, from the words of Noël Coward/Kneehigh Theatre/Cinema Haymarket/18th May 2008)

which was, let’s not beat about the bush, unbelievably pretentious.  I appreciate what they were doing — there was no down time; when you were taking your seats and during the interval the actors still had to be on, playing music and handing out cakes and doing vaudeville acts, so it was pretty immersive (and presumably sucked for the actors).
But the play itself was (apart from drizzled in these random interludes) full of metaphor and trickery.  I only remember three points clearly  
  1. the woman’s children were performed by puppets which was probably the best part of the show because the actors puppeting them were funny and convincing,  
  2. to demonstrate what a great time the two leads were having at one point they were literally swinging from chandeliers, which was starting to push it a bit,  
  3. and finally for some reason I can’t even remember any more they would occasionally stop talking and do some kind of elaborate sway and ‘woosh’ slow motion thing representing the ocean or the wind or something (possibly connected to the fact that the leads meet when a train gust gets grit in the woman's eye?), a sort of reality check I think, and it was the most poncey thing I have ever seen.


I did get given one of those fortune teller fish though for some reason.  So, just so you know I am…  either False or Passionate.  I’m unclear.  If it curls up entirely you are Passionate, but if it Turns Over you are False, so what does it mean if it curls up and flips over and then jumps off your hand?

Next, because he worked in the theatre, we got comps to

Hairspray (book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan, music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman, based upon the New Line Cinema film written by John Waters/Shaftesbury Theatre/19th May 2008)

Although only if we went on Michael Ball’s day off.  In fact, in the performance I saw, four of the leads were played by understudies.  But I don’t have a problem with understudies.  You know that.  Look what happened with The Producers.

The show was pretty good, I think, but I barely remember anything of it (it didn’t help that I had only recently seen the film adaptation).  I’ve now seen three versions of this story, the original film, the musical stage show and the film adaptation of the musical.  Pretty much there are bits in all three that work better than in the other two.  I think if you took the moral complexity of the original film, the plot of the stage show and the charm of the newer movie, you’d have a really great show.
And then we went to see a show of my choice.  So I picked

John Buchan's 'The 39 Steps' (adapted by Patrick Barlow, from an original concept by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon/Criterion Theatre, Piccadilly/20th May 2008)

which The Butler had seen before and reported was very good.  He had originally told me about it back when it opened and Charles Edwards was the lead (because I had a major crush on his Arthur Conan Doyle of Murder Rooms),

but I never got around to seeing it.  So now that he wasn’t in it, I finally got to see it.

And it was hysterically funny.  Four actors playing multiple rolls, using minimal props to great effect with perfectly choreographed slapstick and all running around like little kids.  

This is my kind of theatre. 

What's the most pretentious play you've ever seen?


  1. That interval actor in Brief Encounter... is she making balloon animals? Why are there melons strapped to her? God, that show sounds awful. The film wasn't wank. Why is the show wank?

    1. Serious drama is often wank. I haven't seen the film actually, not in a great hurry now.

      She was making balloon animals, or something anyway and those melons are also balloons. Possibly it was part strip tease. She also had a feather on her head that I have forgotten to draw.

    2. I have now seen the film, which is infinitely better than this stage adaptation, although I still didn't like it because the man is a pushy jerk.


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