Dastardly spy ring smashed in caper

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When the Sudbury Dramatic Society put out an audition call for four people to play 150 characters in The 39 Steps, it was a challenge I really wanted to see staged.

The fast-paced rewrite of an Alfred Hitchcock thriller, itself inspired by the John Buchan-penned spy book, turned out to be a delight on the Sudbury Quay Theatre stage.

All the cast played exhausting roles with great panache and energy.

Our hero, Richard Hannay – described by a “This is the BBC” voiceover as about six foot tall with a pencil moustache and rugged good looks – was ably played by Michael Harding.

The dashing leading man – hung from a speeding train and the girders of the Forth Bridge – was hunted across the moors by planes on wires and a dog on wheels and manfully kissed several femmes fatales.

As Hannay goes in pursuit of a master spy up in the Highlands, he and his stiff upper lip encounter dastardly murders, double crossing secret agents, silly stake-out men in gaberdine macs and beautiful women.

Helen Arbon played Hannay’s love interests with glamour and style in three characters, the mysterious Annabelle Schmidt, the put-upon Scottish peasant Margaret McTyte and the fellow traveller Pamela Edwards.

It was up to the other three actors – Richard Fawcett, Tom Eddington and Neil Arbon – to play the clowns and keep the wise cracking and slap stick on the run.

We had villains, comedy cops, Scottish eccentrics and a whole host of fast-changing parts.

At one point, three actors frantically swapped hats to portray a newspaper seller, a milkman, salesman, a porter and a policeman all at once.

My favourite character had to be the marvellous Mr Memory, played by Tom Eddington.

Catch this melodramatic comedy caper until Saturday.