REVIEW: Thrilling adventure and expert comic timing bring the audience to its feet at Royal & Derngate in Northampton

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A dashing hero is wrongly accused, the nation is in peril and a network of spies are plotting dastardly deeds.

The 39 Steps, which is playing at the Royal & Derngate in Northampton,takes John Buchan’s spy adventure, which was also of course a Hitchcock film, and turns it into a silly, funny show that hurtles along.

Richard Hannay finds himself in the awkward predicament of having a lady agent murdered in his flat and sets off for Scotland by train pursued by the police. On the way he meets dozens of characters from underwear salesmen to a gullible milkman and of course the beautiful Pamela.

As in the Hitchock film Pamela and Hannay spend a good deal of time handcuffed to each other and she is understandably quite sceptical about his claims of innocence, right up to the point that she isn’t anymore.

Richard Ede, as Hannay, brings such fun and charm to the role and along with the rest of the cast, great physical comedy. Olivia Greene captured the clipped tones and glamour of a 1930s English actress and as with all the cast, performed at breakneck speed never putting a foot wrong.

The great thing about this show is the sheer number of characters that are played by the cast. These are mostly portrayed by Andrew Hodges and Rob Witcomb whose comic timing and slick command of the material sees them expertly hopping in and out of character often with little more than a change of hat.

In one scene where they played two spies and a Scottish married couple I momentarily forgot there were only two actors there.

I also enjoyed spotting the occasional reference to Hitchcock, with the portly director making a brief appearance in silhouette form and a nod to Psycho with a shower curtain doubling as a waterfall.

The show brought many laughs and brought much of the audience to its feet at the end. It’s certainly an enjoyable and cheering night’s entertainment for a chilly January night. The 39 Steps is at the Royal until January 16.