Review: The 39 Steps at the Quay Theatre, Sudbury

Neil Arbon with Tom Eddington as Mr Memory ANL-150403-164015001
Neil Arbon with Tom Eddington as Mr Memory ANL-150403-164015001

When the Sudbury Dramatic Society put out an audition call for five 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 serious 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 has to be the marvellous Mr Memory, played by Tom Eddington.

Director Malcom Hollister and the cast and crew should be dizzy with success.

Catch this melodramatic comedy caper until Saturday.

Catherine Turnbull