Presented by the Dunnville Community Theatre,
Theatre Review by John Taylor,
for the Dunnville Free Press
The Dunnville Community Theatre opened this season in its new, brighter and more spacious location at the Dunnville District Anglers and Hunters Conservation Clubhouse with a performance of the play, "The 39 Steps." This play is a reworking of the story originally written by John Buchan (Scottish novelist and one time Governor General of Canada) during the First World War. The novel was adapted for the cinema in 1935 by Alfred Hitchcock, among the first of the genre of spy-thriller blockbuster. It is the story of an ordinary man, a Canadian no less, is caught up in a sinister plot to smuggle a secret out of the country. The bad guy, just as in the James Bond series, is suave and sophisticated, an evil mastermind determined to smuggle out of England plans for a revolutionary, completely silent aircraft motor. In the play, however, all the craft and conventions of the stage are applied to turn "The 39 Steps" into a farce.
The result is a mystery, truly magical. I could not believe my eyes. Here we were laughing uproariously at a story that -- I could have sworn --was decidedly not funny. It was a total change, as a Monty Python film puts it, "And Now For Something Completely Different." I was so intrigued that I went right home and watched the 1935 Hitchcock film right through, and was astonished to find that much, if not most, of the action and dialogue were left unchanged in this theatrical version. How did they make a thriller into a comedy that looks like it was born and raised for laughs? Now I feel like going back to watch the play again and again in hopes that I will somehow catch what its secret is.
Credit for this amazing piece of legerdemain no doubt should go to the "adapter" Patrick Barlow, but for bringing it to Dunnville and putting it on stage here, we have director Nancy Erskine to thank. Without actually walking onto the stage, her spirit pervaded the evening. The leading man, Jordan Heron, carries his role well, with understated distinction. Kathryn Stengel makes a svelte and gracious romantic lead, but more than that, she make three leading ladies, complete with three different accents. In the role of "clown 2" Diane Morris offers a comic charm that anchors the shenanigans surrounding her, through all of the many roles she plays. The youth element is represented by Gordan Huffman, Clown 1, who delivers a poised performance with a natural sense of timing that promises greater things soon to come.
It is not too late to catch this unique experience. Two performances are upcoming next weekend, including the well known "dinner theatre," where you taste a chef's interpretation of the themes of the evening's play before enjoying the play itself.