Tuesday, 19 January 2021

REVIEW: The 39 Steps - A Radio Drama for the Living Record Festival

The Living Record Festival is a celebration of ground-breaking grassroots digital art happening between the 17th of January and 22nd February 2021 with a range of audio stories available to listen in to at home. My second visit was for Blackbox Theatre’s radio play of The 39 Steps adapted by Chris Hawley from John Buchan’s book. This familiar story, wonderfully adapted for the stage by Patrick Barlow which ran for nine years at the Criterion Theatre, suits the radio medium and is a very well-produced show with a fun tongue in cheek script and plenty of sound effects to bring the story to life.

The premise is that the cast are due to assemble at a radio station in 1962 when the snow prevents the cast arriving at the station and with five minutes to go Julian decides to put it on air using Brenda, the Tea Lady for all the female parts and the sound effects, “I was just doing tea and biscuits”, with Roy for all the male parts, “he’s good at voices”. The set up suggests a radio version of The Play that goes wrong, but they play it straight, just as ordinary folk doing silly accents and it works very well.

Bruce McIntosh is Julian who as Richard Hannay narrates the story, sounding like Giles Brandreth and creates the feel of a thirties’ storyteller. Brenda played by Scarlett Briant also has fun as a shop assistant, a Brummie train passenger, Mrs McCreedy, Emily Hamilton, and Rogers (sounding like Mrs Overall from Acorn Antiques). All the male parts are comically played by David McCulloch including the spy Franklin Scudder, the Milkman Roy, Hamish, Rory McGregor who recognises “the murderererer”, Professor Boris Von Wickenburger “Don’t believe a vord of it” and Sir Walter Bullivant as well as a dog, pigs, owl, and a cockerel! Each character is clearly defined by the often over the top delivery which fits with the melodramatic “on the run” plot.

The mystery of the 39 steps and the HT 22:17 code is slowly revealed over an hour and forty-minute running time as Hannay seeks to escape his pursuers while he decodes the little black book and reveals the Blackstone secret.

The storytelling is helped along by a host of good sound effects of the train, plane and automobile, doors slamming, dripping, fuse burning, explosions and footsteps proving that for a tea lady, Brenda is a very good foley artiste. The music also helps create the scene, raise the tension and a smile. The Memory man may have disappeared from the story, but it is still a ripping yarn, proper “Conan Doyle Stuff” with a happy ending. Perfect listening for a cold dark winter’s night.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Online | Price of Ticket: £4.50
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