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Photo by Diane+Mike Photography

Vertigo Theatre brings classic Hitchcock thriller to Calgary stage

By Matt Hume, November 3 2017 — 

Calgary’s Vertigo Theatre will present The 39 Steps from Nov. 11–Dec.16. In a nutshell, it’s a play based on a film based on a novel. But the details are much more interesting.

In its original form, The 39 Steps is a novel published in 1915, authored by John Buchan, the 15th Governor General of Canada. The novel was beloved by none other than Alfred Hitchcock, who turned it into an evergreen film in 1935 — enhancing the ‘thriller’ aspect of the captivating spy mystery. The 39 Steps in its theatre form was conceived by Nobby Dimon and Simon Corble in 1995. With a strong rewrite from Patrick Barlow, the play tells the entirety of Hitchcock’s thriller with a comedic overtone and a four-person cast. After making its way from the West End to Broadway, it won two of its six Tony Award nominations.

Vertigo Theatre director Ron Jenkins says the Hitchcock film is a classic for good reason.

“It’s like he’s learning his craft during that film,” he says. “It is a great escape, you’re five minutes in and it’s started — the adventure has started.”

The theatre adaptation has been well-received over the past two decades. Jenkins says Vertigo’s interpretation breathes new life into a well-tested script.

“[Dimon and Corble] knew what they were doing when they made this show in 1995 and toured it and worked on it for close to nine years before it went to the West End. They figured out all the comedy specifics and the thriller specifics,” he says. “We’re trying to make it our own. The personnel we have involved are much different than people who did it in the West End and on Broadway. The actors bring their own life and characterizations.”

With references to other Hitchcock classics, an enhanced love story and a focus on comedy, Barlow’s adaptation completely alters the story’s tone. Jenkins says it’s a welcome upgrade.

“[Barlow] gives you much more in terms of events and love story from the movie and the book. And he grounds the lead character a bit more,” Jenkins says. “The comedy rules in this thing, partly because you have only four people to play all of the parts that are in the film — I think the comedy comes from there. There’s a good laugh and a genuine laugh. We all know what a thriller is and lots of people know Hitchcock so it’s a spin on that.”

The 39 Steps previews Nov. 11–15 at Vertigo Theatre. The show opens Nov. 16, with performances running Tuesday through Sunday until Dec. 16. Tickets start at $29 and are available at Vertigo Theatre at 115 9 Ave. SE or online at vertigotheatre.com.

“Come have a great time in the theatre, because it’s always a great time at the theatre,” Jenkins says.

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