Since publication during World War I, the story of lone hero Richard Hannay has continued to be republished as well as be made into various film or tv adaptations some more faithful to the novel than others. Most famous of the four adaptations is the 1935 classic by Alfred Hitchcock often voted in the top 50 of all time best British films. The other adaptation is for stage and The 39 Steps continues to be popular in the West End at the Criterion Theatre.
Ever wondered why the novel called The 39 Steps? Author John Buchan wroted the novel from a nursing home, during an illness. His daughter aged 6 came up from the beach to the nursing home to announce that the wooden staircase leading to the beach had 39 steps - a classic was born!
The theatrical version is very much based on the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock version, which introduced the romance element and also is a lot more comedic with even farcial elements due to the way it has been staged. It even throws in references or music from other Hitchcock films. This contrasts to the original novel. At the time of John Buchan writing the book, Britain was already at war and the story of German spies infiltrating Britian to steal military secrets had a real resonance. The whole country was on edge and told to be cautious in case the enemy were "listening". The story of the the hero Richard Hannay overcoming danger against all odds had a real impact on soldiers serving in the trenches in France and spoke to the high level of patritism that was overflowing amongst the British population.
The stage production first made it to the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2005, then to the Tricycle Theatre in London in 2006 transferring later that year to The Criterion Theatre where it has been running ever since. The play is cleverly performed with only four actors. The lead actor only plays Richard Hannay and then another actress or actor plays the three woman who are part of the romantic side of the plot with the other two actors taking on every other role, which is between 100 to 150 roles and sometimes the same actor playing two characters in one scene!
The West End version initially starred Charles Edwards as Richard Hannay and he is the only British actor that transferred to the US version that played in three different Broadway theatres from January 2008 until January 2010. The play won Best Comedy at the Olivier awards in 2007.
The current cast of The 39 Steps at the Criterion Theatre is Andrew Alexander as Richard Hannay. He has various theatrical credits to his name as well as being part of the group Teatro whose album charted at nubmer 1 around the world. Playing the three woman is Catherine Bailey, a stage and tv regular including a role on Eastenders. Playing all other 100 plus roles is Stephen Critchlow a stage and tv actor who has appeared in Coronation Street and new cast member Paul Bigley who starred in Breaking The Code at Theatre Royal Haymarket and whose screen credits include Hustle, Midsomer Murders and Vanity Fair.
The 39 Steps is looking set to be one of the West End's longest running comedy and is currently booking until the end of March 2013.