This week I attended The 39 Steps Vintage Night in London’s West End.
The 39 Steps is a classic play (and a book, and a famous film directed by Alfred Hitchcock) that’s been running since September 2006 at the Criterion Theatre at Piccadilly Circus.
I was attracted to the idea of their special “Vintage Night” because I love dressing up and I’d heard the show was good fun. However, given the Hitchcock connection, I expected they play itself to be a bit serious and moody. In this, I was utterly wrong, The 39 Steps is a fast-paced, thoroughly enjoyable, highly entertaining spectacle from go to whoa.
Set in the 1930s, the play begins with leading man Richard Hannay (dashingly played by David Bark-Jones) having just returned from abroad to his “humble” Portland Square abode. He laments he’s tired of life (tired of London too, we presume) but his situation quickly becomes a lot more exciting when he meets a dark and mysterious German woman (Dianne Pilkington) who reveals a plot involving international espionage before she is killed, leaving Hannay as the prime suspect. He goes on the run, catching a train to Scotland (on which he encounters a stylish blonde – also played by Dianne Pilkington) then racketing about the countryside attempting to prove his innocence by exposing the arch criminals at the heart of the spy ring.
There’s a host of minor characters – policemen, newspaper boys, Scottish farmers and hoteliers – all played by two actors (Timothy Speyer and Jeremy Swift) and it’s amazing what they can do with some quick costume changes and ingenious set devices.
In fact the whole thing is extremely slick and clever – using all the old drama school tricks such as the four-chairs-make-a-car routine, flapping coats and bits of mime to denote a windy roof of the train and in-jokes about other Hitchcock movies – all delivered to great effect and with impeccable comic timing.
Afterwards we joined the other vintage lovers for a very civilised supper in the Criterion Theatre‘s impressive Victorian foyer. Here we were treated to retro teacups containing iced tea with a shot of gin (G&Tea by Vintage Secret), and delicious cupcakes decorated with recurring motifs from the play – handcuffs, lampposts, a pipe – from The Vintage Patisserie.
The Vintage Night was a nice twist on a traditional trip to the theatre and I was left with a big smile on my face. And I’d recommend this show to anyone who wants to see a jolly good West End play without it being too serious. There’s no need to dress up (although you can, of course!).
Buy your The 39 Steps tickets today.