News Column

'39 Steps' is a campy, energetic thrill ride [Roanoke Times (Roanoke, VA)]

October 8, 2013


Fans of Alfred Hitchcock movies will delight in Mill Mountain Theatre's current production of "The 39 Steps" - a spoof of the 1935 spy thriller directed by Hitchcock. But even those who have never seen any of the late director's classic films should find this highly energetic, campy production to be a thrill ride on its own.

The story revolves around Richard Hannay, a Londoner who is bored with his life and who is unwittingly dragged into an espionage plot while attending the performance of a man with a photographic memory.

Shots ring out at the theater, and in the ensuing chaos Hannay takes a mysterious woman named Annabella Smith back to his apartment. There she tells him she is being pursed by assassins and mentions - but does not elaborate on - 39 steps, a man with a missing fingertip, and potential danger to British national security.

When Hannay discovers the woman has been stabbed in the back in his apartment during the night, he goes on the run as an accused murderer and attempts to solve the mystery and expose the real killers.

During his journey to clear his name, he is chased by murderous spies, Scotland Yard and local police, meets a beautiful woman on a train and falls in love, and finally comes face-to-face with the evil mastermind behind the espionage plot.

This thriller is played strictly for laughs, as four actors play all the parts in this complex story on a sparsely decorated stage that transports the characters from London to the moors of Scotland and finally back to London.

The performances are inspired and energetic. Much of the comedy is based on the fluid movements, quick costume changes and deadpan delivery of the four actors - Dustin Charles, Ginger Poole, Jeffrey McGullion and Andrew Livingston.

Each actor plays multiple parts, often in the same scene. Under the direction of Peppy Biddy, the cast members emulate weather conditions, pantomime through treacherous terrain and pull off a chase scene on top of a moving train using only minimal props, costumes and one another.

Film buffs will get a kick out of listening for references in the dialogue to other classic Hitchcock films, and homage is also paid to other old movies, including one iconic scene from "King Kong."

The opening night performance last Wednesday was nearly flawless, and the audience - the theater was approximately two-thirds full - seemed highly entertained by the nearly two-hour, two-act play.

The humor is aimed at adults, but there is nothing too risque for young theatergoers who would likely enjoy the action and the energy. A couple of loud gunshots during the performance might give a particularly sensitive patron a startle.

"The 39 Steps"

Where: Mill Mountain Theatre, Trinkle Main Stage, 1 Market Square, Roanoke

When: Oct. 9-13: Wednesday through Saturday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 2 p.m.

Cost: $17 to $25

Contact: or 342-5740

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