Prepare to Be Thrilled

By Tom Porter. Stage photography by Alex Cornell du Houx '06

The theater and dance department is staging an exciting and humorous adaptation of the early twentieth-century spy thriller The 39 Steps

39S screen title on stage

Director Lindsay Livingston says the show is inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 movie—a “proto noir” take on the original novel. “It’s a very fast-paced production, playing with all the tropes of the spy thriller, so we really have a lot of fun,” explains the assistant professor of theater.

Based on the 1915 John Buchan novel of the same name, The 39 Steps has all the ingredients needed for a rollicking adventure: The protagonist, Richard Hannay, finds himself embroiled in an international conspiracy as he is wrongly accused of murder on a visit to London. During the course of a thrilling journey up to the Scottish Highlands and back, he tries to elude both the authorities and the bad guys in an effort to prove his innocence and expose the network of enemy spies trying to undermine the British government. (There are also romantic entanglements along the way and a plane crash!)

This production features a cast of four very talented actors, says Livingston, who between them play more than forty roles. “One actor plays the lead role; another plays three parts, which leaves the rest of the roles to be played by the remaining two actors.” Three of the cast are seniors, who have quite a bit of acting experience and one of whom intends to pursue theater after Bowdoin, she explains, while the fourth is a relatively inexperienced sophomore. “They all perform Herculean feats of virtuosity on the stage.”

Lindsay Livingston

Livingston describes the show as “cinematic” in character. "It’s a conversation between film and theater. Parts of the production use film sequences in conjunction with live actors,” she explains, “in an effort to create some of the perspective, mood, and atmosphere of Hitchcock’s masterpiece.”

The performance also features impressive use of props and visual effects, as well as what Livingston describes as an “immersive soundtrack,” something that is rare in theater and more commonly used on the screen. “There’s a constant underscoring of music or environmental sound." For example, there are wind and insect noises during the scenes set in the Scottish moors.

The purpose of the play is to provide pure enjoyment for theatergoers, says Livingston, who encourages people to come have a laugh and “marvel at what these actors, and this crew, are able to do.”  

The 39 Steps is being presented by arrangement with Fiery Angels Limited and Concord Theatricals on behalf of Samuel French, Inc. The event is sponsored by the Alice Cooper Morse Fund for the Performing Arts.

Enjoy these images from the dress rehearsal: