Entertainment Local

Northumberland Players stage classic spy story

Cecilia Nasmith

By Cecilia Nasmith, Northumberland Today

Rob Davison and Dave Clark shoot at the hero in their plane during a recent rehearsal of The Thirty–Nine Steps.
Sherwood McLernon/Special to Northumberland Today

Rob Davison and Dave Clark shoot at the hero in their plane during a recent rehearsal of The Thirty–Nine Steps. Sherwood McLernon/Special to Northumberland Today

COBOURG -- Northumberland Players are about to mount one of their most ambitious dinner theatres yet at the Best Western .

The four-character version of The 39 Steps was a melodrama written originally by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon. It was an adaptation of the 1915 John Buchan novel and the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film. Patrick Barlow wrote the most recent adaptation in 2005, and it has been touring the world since. Make no mistake about it -- even though the movie is considered to be one of the top British films of all time, the play is written entirely for laughs.

"I wanted to make it farcical and a huge theatrical event with some great old-fashioned stagecraft," director Jack Boyagian said.

"I was so tempted to use projections, but we dealt with scenes in a way that are consistent with theatrical techniques of the 1930 period.

"The audience does not need to know the film in detail to understand it as a parody even though it is full of references to many of Hitchcock's films like Rear Window, Strangers on a Train, Psycho, North By Northwest and Vertigo. Anyone who has seen some of the old action films will appreciate this genre."

A similar approach has been taken with North By Northwest, with a melodrama based on the movie now being staged in Toronto. But the Players' version is a farce that incorporates some of the zaniness of Mel Brooks and Monty Python.

This ambitious project has taken five months to reach fruition.

An entire army was required to create the props, build the stage, and design the sound, lighting and costumes. The costumes, the stage props, the set pieces are all designed and built for a show that requires fast costume changes and multiple uses of props.

Costume designer Ann Hadcock, props designer Sharon Anderson and building lead Mike Sonsosky (with the help of half a dozen carpenters) have created nearly a hundred pieces that are required to sustain the illusion of taking place in multiple settings, with dozens of actors on a single set designed by Jan Crane.

Boyagian pointed out that the importance in the design is to imply that these are the things an old theatre might have sitting around, and to use stage pieces with multiple uses to keep the pace at lightning speed. The design is such that actors and backstage crew work together seamlessly to give the appearance of dozens of actors.

He added that the technical aspects of lighting and sound were as challenging as those in a large musical, and noted that the layers of story telling required a shadow screen and even pieces of vintage planes.

The Best Western ballroom will be transformed for this play with a larger stage and some unique technical features and creative stage-craft.

Producer Fran Martin stated that the group is known for bringing together the local talents of volunteers to bring amazing award-winning theatre to the county.

"This is a must see show," Martin declared.

Finally, there are the actors.

The conceit of this show is that four actors play probably 80 different characters. Rehearsals are exhausting and confusing, as actors change characters on the fly (and in between scenes, the actors change the sets and change into new costume pieces).

"How the two clowns Dave Clark and Rob Davidson keep their characters apart still amazes me," Boyagian said.

Garret Lee flying around stage rarely coming off , is a physical feat in itself. Stephanie Carrabin brings her acting talents to bear in creating three memorable characters.

The show is an acting and physical roller coaster, a ride the audience will no doubt enjoy. If you are seeking something completely different, then this is the show for you.

The dinner theatre runs from Oct.. 20 to Nov. 5 at the Best Western in Cobourg, where tickets can be purchased.

cnasmith@postmedia.com