REVIEW: Fast-paced whodunnit is packed with laughs

Bard to Broadway play is adapted from a 1915 novel and a 1935 Hitchcock movie

A hilarious comedy

What do you get when you mix an Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece with a juicy spy novel and add a dash of Monty Python?

The result is comedy/mystery/adventure melodrama that is packed with non-stop laughs. The 39 Steps opened another great season of Bard to Broadway summer repertory theatre at the Village Theatre in Qualicum Beach July 3.

Adapted from the 1915 novel by John Buchan and the 1935 Hitchcock film The 39 Steps is a fast-paced whodunit.

The original concept and production of a four-actor version of the story was by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon. Patrick Barlow re-wrote this adaptation in 2005.

Closely following the storyline of Hitchcock’s 1935 film, the play features more than 150 characters brought to life by a ridiculously talented cast of just four people.

The 39 Steps opens with the dashing bachelor Richard Hannay played Dan Osleeb who laments that he is bored with life.

He heads out to a London theatre where he gets mixed up with a paranoid vampy German mystery woman named Annabella performed by Kari Larsen.

When she is murdered in Hannay’s apartment after revealing fragments of an espionage plot, a mysterious organization called The 39 Steps is hot on Hannay’s trail in a nationwide manhunt.

With Hannay on the run, seeking to uncover secrets in a remote Scottish town his main obstacles are a series of cops and country bumpkins played masterfully by Gary Brown and Rob Atkinson; two of this area’s greatest comedic actors.

This play depends on physical comedy and Brown and Atkinson handle the brunt of the production’s many quick changes … not just costumes but accents and genders.

Using props like hats and the ability to switch accents — as well as costumes — on a dime, the characters cross and double-cross each other.

Solving the mystery is not half as engaging as the riotous stage action that sprints from London to Scotland.

Its great fun to watch scenes come alive through nothing more than simple props and theatrical magic.

Furniture appears out of nowhere and the audience gets to imagine characters riding on a whizzing train which is brilliantly re-created with just some crates.

Throw in a hilarious on-stage plane crash, handcuffs, missing fingers and some good old-fashioned romance and you have a snappy, laugh-filled and smashingly acted little show that keeps on delivering.

While Osleeb plays just one role, he is onstage nearly the entire time and convincingly portrays a regular fellow in extraordinary circumstances.

With an eyebrow in the cocked-and-locked position and a trim moustache, Osleeb is 1930s period-perfect.

Hannay’s unwilling partner in crime is delightfully portrayed by Larsen who lends comic support and sexual sizzle in her roles as a mysterious spy who gets the intrigue going, a sex starved farmer’s wife and an uptight blond who, after ratting out Hannay to the authorities, ends up in a hotel room bed with him.

One of Osleeb and Larsen’s finest moments is in Act 2, as they pull off awkward twists and turns while handcuffed to each other.

As Brown and Atkinson play a multitude of parts, they effortlessly juggle characters, costumes and accents — sometimes within a single scene.

Their stage frolics prove endlessly entertaining.

As underwear salesmen on a train they are hilarious and the scene they are in involving a plane crash is over-the-top funny.

Brown is priceless as Mr. Memory, the music-hall performer while Atkinson is devilishly evil as the spy mastermind.

It’s a tremendous feat to get the comedy, timing and split-second costume changes just right.

You require a gifted cast, a stellar production crew and a skilled director to mastermind the magic and B2B’s production has it all and then some.

Guaranteed to entertain B2B will be presenting The 39 Steps, the musical review A…My Name Will Always Be Alice, the enormously popular comedy The Owl and the Pussycat, and the teen musical Disney’s Aladdin until August 15.

For schedule details visit Bard to Broadway’s website: www.b2btheatre.com.

For tickets, call 250-752-4470.

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