The 39 Steps is a melodrama adapted from the 1915 novel by John Buchan and the 1935 film by Alfred Hitchcock. The original concept and production of a four-actor version of the story was by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon. Patrick Barlow rewrote this adaptation in 2005.
The play’s concept calls for the entirety of the 1935 adventure film The 39 Steps to be performed with a cast of only four. One actor plays the hero, Richard Hannay, an actress (or sometimes actor) plays the three women with whom he has romantic entanglements, and two other actors play every other character in the show: heroes, villains, men, women, children and even the occasional inanimate object. This often requires lightning fast quick-changes and occasionally for them to play multiple characters at once. Thus the film’s serious spy story is played mainly for laughs, and the script is full of allusions to (and puns on the titles of) other Alfred Hitchcock films, including Strangers on a Train, Rear Window, Psycho, Vertigo and North by Northwest.
The 39 Steps Premiere
The first version of the play written by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon for a cast of four actors and funded by a £1,000 Yorkshire Arts Grant, premiered in 1995 before an audience of 90 people at the Georgian Theatre Royal in Richmond, North Yorkshire, before embarking on a tour of village halls across the north of England.
Patrick Barlow Rewrite
In 2005 Patrick Barlow rewrote the script, keeping the scenes, staging and small-scale feel, and in June 2005 this re-adaption premiered at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, directed by Fiona Buffini.
The featured actors were Robert Whitelock, Lisa Jackson, Simon Gregor and Mark Hadfield.
Maria Aitken directed the revised production in its London premiere at the Tricycle Theatre (London), which opened on 10 August 2006 titled John Buchan’s The 39 Steps.
The cast for the London premiere comprised Rupert Degas, Charles Edwards, Simon Gregor and Catherine McCormack.
Transferred to the Criterion Theatre
The production transferred to the Criterion Theatre in London’s West End in September 2006.
United States Premiere
The play had its U.S. premiere at the Boston University Theatre, by the Huntington Theatre Company, in Boston on September 19, 2007.
Billed as Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, it opened on Broadway in a Roundabout Theatre production at the American Airlines Theatre, with previews beginning January 4, 2008 and the official opening on January 15, 2008.
The initial run concluded on March 29, 2008, and transferred to the Cort Theatre on April 29, 2008 and then transferred to the Helen Hayes Theatre on January 21, 2009.
Aitken also directed the United States productions, and Edwards transferred to these productions as Richard Hannay, the only actor from the UK cast to do so. The other actors in the premiere US productions were Jennifer Ferrin, Arnie Burton and Cliff Saunders. Edwards concluded his run on July 6, 2008, and Sam Robards took over the role of Richard Hannay.
The play won the Olivier Award for Best Comedy in 2007 and the What’s On Stage Award for Best Comedy 2007.
A Spanish Production Opens
Spanish production opened at Maravillas Theatre in Madrid directed by Eduardo Bazo and starring Gabino Diego, Jorge de Juan, Diego Molero and Patricia Conde (later replaced by Beatriz Rico)
The 2008 Roundabout Broadway production won the 2008 Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience and Outstanding Lighting Design (Kevin Adams).
It won two Tony Awards on June 15, 2008 for Best Lighting Design and Best Sound Design.
It was nominated for four other Tonys: Best Play, Best Direction of a Play (Maria Aitken), Best Scenic Design of a Play (Peter McKintosh) and Best Costume Design of a Play (Peter McKintosh).