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Sunday, December 16, 2012


(Michael Gritten and Loyiso McDonald. Pic by Val Adamson)
Quite simply, a brilliant production. (Review by Keith Millar)
The hilarious comedy spoof, The 39 Steps, which is currently on at the Catalina Theatre is quite simply, a brilliant production. This unique and innovative melodramatic whodunit offers everything from action and mystery to murder and romance, and contains all the elements of first-class entertainment.

Set in 1935 it is populated by a superb array of larger than life British characters. The lead role of Richard Hannay, the amateur sleuth who sets out to solve the mystery of the 39 Steps, is played with authority and energy by Clinton Small. All the other characters, and there are many of them, are played by just three actors. Clare Mortimer, Loyiso McDonald and Michael Gritten are superb as they switch accents, hats and sometimes just facial expression to they portray the cast of hundreds.

Michael Gritten, in particular, gives a comedy master class as each of the personalities he plays gets more and more hilarious and tongue in cheek than the previous one. Loyiso McDonald is not far behind and maybe it is his surname which explains his very convincing Scottish accents. Clair Mortimer is all elegance and aloof sex appeal in the many female roles she portrays.

The 39 Steps is in some ways suggestive of a radio production. Its reliance on sound effects, dramatic music and versatile artists playing multiple roles is reminiscent of “The Theatre of The Mind”. However, moments such as the chase on the Flying Scotsman, the escape on the Fourth Bridge, the crash of a bi-plane and the finale at the London Palladium are truly theatrical. Great credit is due to the director, the acting skills of the cast, and the inspired props, sound effects and music for pulling this off.

In the first half, the action moves along at a swift and energetic pace and the laughs come with great regularity. However, after interval they seemed to lose their way for a while when it seemed as if energy and concentration levels dropped a bit - but this is a small niggle and something that I am sure can be remedied.

Patrick Barlow’s award winning stage adaptation of The 39 Steps is based John Buchan’s 1915 novel, and Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic movie made in 1935. It has been running for six years on the West End and five years on Broadway.

Now Themi Venturas has brought it to Durban for a short season to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Catalina Theatre, and to add another gem to the city’s impressive festive theatre offering. He should be congratulated for choosing a production of this quality and intelligence for this important event rather than following the stereotypical route of glitter and tinsel.

The Catalina Theatre at Wilson’s Wharf overlooking Durban Harbour is a great place to be on a balmy Durban evening - and when there is a theatre experience such as The 39 Steps on offer, what could be better. This creative theatrical tour de force deserves to be supported. Add The 39 Steps to your list of festive entertainment for this year. You will not be disappointed.

The 39 Steps runs until December 30 on Thursdays and Fridays at 20h00, Saturdays at 14h30 and 20h00 and Sundays at 14h30 and 18h00. Bookings on 031 305 6889 or online at – Keith Millar