The 39 Steps

OLIVER JAMES enjoys this refreshing production which doesn’t take itself too seriously.

39 Steps Churchill oliver james vica germanova wolfson theatre

Wolfson Theatre, Churchill College, Friday 8th – Saturday 9th November, 7.30pm, £3/4

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From the aghast look on the other Tab reviewers’ faces when it was revealed that The 39 Steps was showing at Churchill, it quickly became apparent that I would be the one to make the pilgrimage out of town on a rainy Friday night. Being a small in-college production with an apparently limited budget, there was a real risk that the play could devolve from a Broadway hit into a 5th grade school panto. Furthermore, I’d never seen this performance nor read the book it is based on, which was apparently written by a man while sick in bed. With that in mind I can’t deny my hesitation to see the play nor the fact that I snuck a water bottle filled with G&T into the theatre, god forbid it be pathetic.

However with great relief, I was pleasantly surprised.

As a college production, the pool of possible talent is obviously more restricted than that of an ADC show. Nonetheless, Vica Germanova’s performance was enchanting and definitely the standout of the production. Equally, the quality of acting was superb and kudos to the director on casting such a versatile group without an obvious ‘weak link’. One of the key charms, and difficulties, of this production is having a cast of four rapidly changing characters in order to make the show come together. A quick change of accent and hat, the actors fluidly flip between characters with an ease that can only come with dedication and practice. What also caught my attention, and admiration for the actors, was the casting of many characters as someone of the opposite gender. The players managed to navigate the careful distinction between playing the opposite gender in a serious manner and knew when to play up a stereotyped image for humour.

Thus the question is really whether we take a ‘glass half-full or half-empty’ attitude to a production like this. It is undeniable that there are cheap gags and clichés littered throughout, but it was never supposed to be a serious societal critique. Furthermore, the set and props were minimal however the entire theatre was utilised which gave an interactive feel and kept the audience guessing. For what appears to be a tight budget, the use of lighting and sound was excellent and a huge success. With careful timing and plenty of creativity, a lack of props and glitzy costuming was easily forgotten by engaging the use of other senses. The fourth wall was regularly broken but such suited the relaxed atmosphere of the production and thus really aided its development.

And so The 39 Steps proved to be a surprising success for this sceptical reviewer. There was nothing pretentious about the production and the cosy atmosphere that both the theatre and the production created were well enjoyed. The cast were all fresh-faced and clearly enjoying themselves, a well appreciated change from seeing the usuals drag themselves across the ADC floor. Far too often Cambridge student productions end up trying too hard to be superfluously edgy and insightful. While The 39 Steps didn’t scream ‘Please love me’, the entire production and atmosphere came together in a way that was hard not to.