THE 39 STEPS – Manor Pavilion Theatre, Sidmouth


18 September 2023




Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film version of John Buchan’s classic story of spies, intrigue and adventure has long been seen as one of the best movies of its genre; there have been other versions, but none match it. Patrick Barlow’s  2005 stage adaptation (based on an original concept by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon) is based on Hitchcock’s film, but….. the presentation is a tad different!

For the final play of the Summer Season at the Manor Pavilion Theatre, Sidmouth, the audiences are offered a bonkers, off-the-wall, laugh out loud parody of the story with some 120 roles portrayed by just 4 actors. The play runs at full tilt as the performers, switch between the rich list of characters from the original film. It is a complete triumph on all levels.

Cleverly presented as a theatre within a theatre – complete with ornate footlights and boxes – the cast have to negotiate an obstacle course of characterisation, costume changes, furniture movement and a truckload of props. This is a proper theatrical workout.

Cardboard flames placed in a grate gets a round of applause, men running on and off stage with a lamppost has the audience in stitches and a tap-dancing jester almost blows the roof off. Andrew Beckett’s production is slick, clever and inventive, but even in this less than conventional play, the story is the thing and Barlow’s writing keeps very closely to the original.

Our suave, adventurous and handsome hero is Richard Hannay played by Charlie Bryant – the only performer to inhabit a single role – here is an actor who just gets better every time I see him; he is so clear-voiced you miss nothing and his comic timing, chemistry with other actors and with the audience is exemplary – this is a perfect role for him. Holly Ashman revels in the portrayal of the three femme fatales of the story; all create a sexually-charged relationship with Hannay and here too is an actor whose sense of comedy is spot-on and who knows just how much to send up her roles.

Filling the majority of the characters are the two ‘clowns’, as they are named in the script. These are hugely complex roles but in Dominic McChesney and Josh Coley we are in very safe hands – these two wallow in the diversity and eccentricities of the crofter, the assassins, the hotelier, the pilots, the commuters…. I could go on. Timing is everything here and when they each have to play three characters in different hats saying alternate lines it is masterly. McChesney and Coley are a brilliant double-act and shine individually; Mr Memory’s final speech is stomach-achingly hilarious and the completely over the top villain is comedy gold.

The underscoring of the play with exerts from the soundtracks from a variety of Hitchcock films is perfect. The many music, sound and lighting cues are expertly timed by Daniel Saint and the work of costume designer, Jan Huckle,  and the supervisor of props, Freya Bramble should be given a huge round of applause.

This is a perfect way to end the summer season. It is a production which is exhilarating as it is exhausting to watch. It is a joy to behold and for two hours you forget the worries of the world. It is ideal entertainment and performed with a hefty dose of brilliance.


The Summer Play Festival 2023 ends on a high. Those who come to see any of the plays are able to take part in a very special theatrical phenomenon. A 12 week repertory season is not found around every corner – Sidmouth is unique as it is wonderful and those who live within visiting distance are amazingly well blessed. The 2023 season has seen really good audience sizes; let us hope it will provide the boost for a return in 2024.


Cast & Creatives

Richard Hannay – Charlie Bryant

Annabella/Pamela/Margaret – Holly Ashman

Clown 1 – Dominic McChesney

Clown 2 – Josh Coley


Writer – Patrick Barlow

Director – Andrew Beckett

Design – Andrew Beckett

Lighting & Sound Operation & Design – Stage Tech Services

Costume Designer – Jan Huckle

Set Builders – Henry Hayward, James Prendergast

Set Assistant – Dominic McChesney

Deputy Stage Manager – Daniel Saint

Choreography – Josh Coley

Artistic Director – Paul Taylor-Mills

Season Associate Producer – Andrew Beckett

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