Saturday, March 27, 2010

The 39 Steps and the Imagination of One Man

How interesting would you imagine a play with a cast of four to be, if you have never seen one? How tiring would you imagine it to be if you knew that 3 of the four actors were going to play the other 30 characters the script demands? From my experience, watching movies with even great actors in more than 4/5 roles gets a little too tiring, even if I can acknowledge the great display of screen talent. If your imagination is also shaping like mine, I can understand why the reviewers of the play skip these details in their report, and give the director a chance.
I read the book – 39 Steps by John Buchan last week leaving out the last 30 pages to retain the suspense. After all, what good is watching a murder mystery and thriller if you know how it is going to end? But, the book did me no good at all. While it was an interesting read, my qualm about how it would look on stage was put to rest by a genius. Alfred Hitchcock was revealed in a whole new light to me, for it needed an imagination of a genius to do what he did.
The plot of the Tony award winning play revolves around a man Richard Hannay who is chased out of London and all around Scotland by the Scotland Yard who believe him to be a murderer (A beautiful woman was murdered in his apartment) and a group of spies who believe that he is privy to their elaborate plan to betray the country and could consequently sabotage their mission (the beautiful woman gave the secret away before she was murdered). Ok, so does it sound like a regular run of the mill thriller? Well, think again and let your imagination run astray. This was as much a suspense thriller as an out and out comedy, however the comedy had nothing to do with the plot..just the way the plot was enacted. Alfred Hitchcock beautifully adapted the book when he introduced his own characters and new twists in the story when he made his 1935 classic. Patrick Barlow brilliantly adapted the film in to a stage play.
While it is very interesting to note the different accents, costumes and demeanor of early 20th century men and women in Scotland belonging to a wide range of social classes, (a milkman, a newspaper man, a theater artist, a policeman, a farmer, a politician, a professor, a thug, an aristocrat, a cheap hotelier, the list goes on…) what is really noteworthy is the performances of the three actors who were not Richard Hannay. While he played his role to perfection, he only had to live one character. The woman, and the two thugs/ policemen/ secret keepers were simply mind-blowing! They left nothing to be desired in their portrayal of any character. It was almost as if they had Multiple Personality Disorders. How they switched back and forth in to the souls of such varied dispositions with amazing fluidity! If I wore a hat, I would take it off! The audience gave them their due…we laughed and applauded at all the right places and marked the extent of our appreciation by giving them twice the standing ovation.
Absolutely everything was funny…the beautiful woman with a knife sticking out her back, the hero being chased inside a train, on it’s roof, his capture in a car and his escapade on a motorbike and over streams and waterfalls, the way the play began and ended inside a theater... To bring this kind of imagery on a stage without the illusions of a graphic program, and all with the use of the simplest of props consisting of two trunks, one door, one window frame and one sofa is a wholly different art. I, for one, am glad that this art has not yet died albeit the grossly high numbers of people who do not particularly enjoy sitting 25 feet from an actor and watch him actually bring cellulose to life.


Parijat Naha said...

enjoyable reading! hitchcock indeed had a flabbergasting talent to create magic both on stage and on the screen. i read daphne du maurier's "rebecca" and then watched hitchcock's screen version of the same. i was left sepellbound even though i knew the plot!!

Sur said...

If I wore a hat, I would take it off! :)
Nice review! The play sure sounds very interesting the way you describe it. Even I while watching a play can't stop appreciating the set design, although I have not seen many plays were there has been a need of such change in scenes as you describe, still I am left awed by even those simplistic changes. And this surely sounds much more complicated than that but the apparent ease with which it seems to have been executed is commendable! I have met a very few theater people, but the passion they show for their art has always convinced me that it would not die out.

Lakshmipriya said...

Oops Sur! big mistake on my part..I left out the most amazing feature of the play, which makes it a bad review...the sets were like no other. In all, it consisted of: one door, one window frame, one sofa, and two trunks. Every scene including the train, the bike , the scottish countryside...were made with "simplistic" changes:D
will effect the addendum soon.

Gyanban said...

hey first time here.

quite agree with your point of view.

i like to see some dark thrillers..

Lakshmipriya said...

welcome Gyanban!