It is difficult to know what to expect when an amateur group takes on a well-known play, but Islesburgh Drama Group’s performance of The 39 Steps last week was quite simply a triumph.
The group’s interpretation of the John Buchan classic was hilarious from beginning to end and the sell-out audience at the Garrison Theatre loved every minute, as the claps and cheers proved.
The far-fetched story starts and ends in a palatial London flat and romps through a series of improbable adventures en route to the Highlands of Scotland. And, incredibly, a tiny cast of only four actors carried the whole thing off with aplomb.
While main man Richard Hannay was played by one actor, Lawrence Radley, throughout, all the other parts were taken by the three remaining actors. And this feat required swift changes of clothes, headgear and especially accents as the action moved north.
Actor Andy Long in particular appeared in so many guises it was difficult to keep count, and at one time had different hats in each hand to accompany alternate sentences, to great comic effect. And all the cast were completely in character throughout the fast-paced play.
The reduced cast played in a minimalist stage set, which again was very successful and served to illustrate that less really can be more. The revolving door indicating scene changes worked well, the toy train and dog which graced the stage at various points worked wonders in depicting the action – and got a lot of laughs.
In some scenes pyrotechnics, lighting, including strobe lighting and music conjured up the atmosphere remarkably well, grabbing the audience’s attention. And at every possible moment the comic potential of a scene was exploited by producer and director Morag Mouat, whether by a moving window (you had to be there), a mispronunciation or a costume.
The John Buchan classic has stood the test of time, been through many iterations on film and stage – one seen by this reviewer at the West End – but has never been so enjoyable.
• More in this week’s paper.