The 39 Steps

New York Week continues with our review of The 39 Steps.

The 39 Steps

Our thoughts about this highly theatrical interpretation of Hitchcock’s film.


Hello, we are here at EdTA conference in New York city. Look! So, we are very excited to be here and we got off the train yesterday and we’re going to talk to you about all the shows that we’re seeing while we are at the conference. And we got off the train, we went right over to TKTS which is right over my shoulder and we got tickets for “The 39 Steps.” This was one that I was very interested in, it was on Broadway for two years and now it’s in an Off-Broadway theatre and it’s got a really neat catch to it. It is the story of “The 39 Steps” which was originally a Hitchcock movie, which is a mystery, a man is falsely accused of murder, he is chased to Scotland and back again. But the great thing about the play is that it is insanely theatrical, only four actors play all the parts and that’s what Craig is going to talk about.

Yes, so, it’s just one actor, who plays one role – that’s our dashing hero. And then the other three actors, two guys and a girl play all the other people that he meets in the play, from femme fatales to policemen, to people who help him hide out, to people who are hunting him down and what is really really wonderful about the play and really really important for high schools and directors to see is how simply and elegantly everything is staged. The character transitions weren’t done off stage in blackness. Most of them are done on stage, just by adding a hat, removing a hat, putting another hat on and so forth. A chair in somebody’s house becomes a chair in somebody else’s house, becomes a chair in the next house. A door is rolled on. Somebody knocks on it, opens the door, they flip the door around and all of a sudden we are magically inside the house. A train is created just by some lights above flickering in a direction and the actors bouncing in movement of the train. A storm is created just by a windy sound effect and the actors reacting to the wind. And I think that it is just absolutely a wonderful example of theatre and theatricality and how theatricality doesn’t mean technology, it means creative imagination and that’s what I took away from the show. Lindsay what did you take away?

I have to say that train movement was one of my absolute favorites. They sat on steamer trucks, there were just light and sound and fog and it always amazes me how often the high school students that I meet, they think that theatre needs to be flash and dash and have all that technology, the same technology that movies do, and it absolutely doesn’t. Having said that, the thing that I took away from it is that the actors didn’t, as far as they were, I don’t know if they were directed this way or show has evolved this way, they didn’t trust the story they were telling, they didn’t trust the theatre techniques that they were using and more often than not they came out of the show, when it was kind of like see how clever we are being, look we are making train out of a streamer truck and that really took away something from my experience. I wish they had just trusted the story, trusted the techniques and just left me in the world of the play instead of yanking me out of it every five minutes or so. Okay, so that’s it. That was The 39 Steps. Tonight we don’t know what we are seeing. Tomorrow we are seeing A Little Night Music but stay tuned.

About the author

Craig Mason

1 Comment

  • THANK YOU LINDSAY! The acting left me cold. Effects — fine. But I really didn’t like the show. Saw it before the move off Broadway. This was a show that screamed “Aren’t we clever!” In fact, the effects did that too. You’re the first person who’s talked about that. Everyone I know loved it.