Here at the Rep, we’re proud to be part of the thriving theatre and arts community that Seattle is known for. In the interest of adding to the dialogue about the work we produce, we’ve invited several theatre artists from the Seattle area to be among the first to see our production of The 39 Steps and offer their responses to the show on our blog.
Actor and performer Chris Bange has appeared in a number of Seattle theatre productions and has taken his own shows on tour throughout the United States and Canada. in today's blg post, he offers his take on the top notch physical comedy that make up the heart of The 39 Steps.
One of the actors in the talk back session after the show described it as a vaudeville play! It absolutely is, in the best sense. Every comic gag in the book is thrown at the audience in rapid fire succession, from pratfalls to puppets shows. I think vaudeville play is a good way to describe it because, as in vaudeville, the main language used in The 39 Steps is a physical dialogue between and the actor and their fellow actors, and the actors and the audience. As an actor, when you play 70 some parts your physicality has to be very precise and clean, so that the audience knows exactly who that character is right when you meet them. With so many characters to play there is very little margin for error, especially when you only see some of the characters for a few seconds each.
There are also several strokes of stylized physical movement brushed throughout the play that put a very original stamp on The 39 Steps as a production, movements that physically draw out and heighten the moments of comedy or drama. Many of these movements are very much in the style of theatrical melodrama. A melodrama has essentially three iconic characters: the hero, the villain, and the victim, and usually the iconic character traits are traded off and on, giving the story twists and turns. Melodrama has a negative connotation as of late because most action movies today are essentially melodramas. Action movies give melodrama a bad name because they follow the basic character structures but it is so thinly done that it is often unbelievable to the audience or “melodramatic.”
The 39 Steps uses melodrama to great effect as the actors very physically play the life and death stakes of the scenes and you believe it. The struggle for life or death is the backbone of the story of this play, and this drives the comedy and drama to even greater heights because it is so immediate. These physical and emotional heights create a visceral reaction between the audience and play - in others words, when you laugh (and you will most certainly laugh) you will laugh hard! The 39 Steps is a rollercoaster of a play, to borrow a great quote, “You may pay for the whole seat…but you will only need the edge!"