Let's have a quick word on the Canberra Theatre career of Jarrad West. It's almost 11 years since he showed up, stealing scenes brutally in "The School for Scandal", and nine since he made his major theatre-directing Canberra debut with "Angels in America" (and if you're going to show ambition, nothing beats rolling out "Angels in America" as your first major show). And while on the one hand he's become a regular director on the scene since then, the ambition, the drive and the ability to show the audience a damn good time has never wavered. Whether it's acting (with iconic leads like Bobby in "Company", Peter Allen in "Boy from Oz" and "Ned Weeks" in "Normal Heart") to directing (the incredibly flowingly theatrical "Home at the End", the spectacular "Cassanova", the brutally direct "Laramie Project"), he's thoroughly worn his way into Canberra audience's heart by presenting an individual, ever-creative vision that has its own very personal approach that ensure s he's consistently one of Canberra's most engaging presences.
And that continues with "The 39 Steps". Patrick Barlow's adaptation of the Hitchcock film of the Buchan novel is a demanding beast - requiring four energetic actors and an equally energetic production that keeps track of the multiple locations and characters in a non-stop frenzied comedy-thriller with a strong emphasis on the comedy. There isn't even the usual safety net of some underlying social theme to make people think this is in any way important - just the pile up of events as our dashing hero races out of one certain-death scenario and straight into another. This is pure silly theatrical fairy floss that only survives if it can keep things moving fast enough that you're too busy enjoying yourself to worry about anything else.
And that's what this does. Patrick Galen-Mules IS the dashing hero-type, an effortlessly charming Canadian Gent with a pleasantly befuddled nature. Steph Roberts triples as three very different romantic interests, each with a different accent, each in their own gorgeous Fiona Leach costumes and each with their own seperate theme tunes - whether she's the ubermysterious Annabella, the temptingly naive Margaret or the thoroughly sensible Pamela, we're absolutely with her every step of the way. Helen McFarlane and Nelson Blattman play everybody else, often warping from personality to personality mid-scene in an astonishing high-wire quick-change series of performances that never once slips - we slide with delight as we wonder what on earth they're going to show up as next.
Michael Sparks set deliberately tightens the playing areas to allow exits-and-entrances to spill out almost immediately and to allow the cast to race in and out of different-coloured doors with alacrity, lending the right level of cartoonishness to the occasion. Stephen Still's lighting is pin-point accurate, enhancing and sometimes helping to create the set, whether it be train, automobile, plane or seemingly-endless-hallway. Sound by Tim Sekuless adds its own ridiculousness from sentimental ballads to screwy cat noises.
This is pure, frantic fun done to perfection. Thoroughly enjoyable ridiculousness.