Fast-paced, gloriously crazy barrel of laughs

Thomas Makinson plays philandering hero Richard Hannay and Harriet Love plays several love...
Thomas Makinson plays philandering hero Richard Hannay and Harriet Love plays several love interests in the comedy spy thriller The 39 Steps. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
The 39 Steps, Globe Theatre, Thursday,  May 16.

Spies, disguises, mistaken identities, amazing coincidences, sudden reversals — The 39 Steps has them all, and more. There is a plot, highly convoluted and wildly improbable, and you can follow its breathless twists and turns intently — or you can just enjoy the fast-paced progression of brilliantly ridiculous scenes.

Director Rosemary Manjunath has squeezed every morsel of comic possibility from Patrick Barlow’s script, and the result on Thursday night was an audience convulsed by chuckles, chortles and helpless laughter.

The story begins in London and revolves around Richard Hannay, a nattily attired, world-weary adventurer whose visit to the theatre leads him into being a murder suspect. He’s played by Thomas Makinson in an astonishingly mobile performance, whether wriggling out from under a corpse or running desperately through the Scottish Highlands.

Harriet Love plays three very different young women, and Brent Caldwell and Richard Ellis play an uncountable number of other people with the aid of lightning costume changes, some of them onstage. Regional and foreign accents, some bordering on outrageous, are well maintained.

Of the many scenes, my favourite was the one in which Hannay, mistaken for a local politician, finds himself obliged to deliver a party-political speech and progresses, from having hardly a word to say, to a masterpiece of hollow bombast and nationalistic fervour.

On the Globe’s rather narrow stage, the action is excellently choreographed. Ingenious use of limited props adds to the fun. There’s no pretence at strict realism, so a portable window is always to hand when Hannay needs one to leap out of; the toy cat barely looks like a toy cat, let alone a real one; false beards make no attempt to look like anything else.

The jokes are often terrible and the whole thing is completely bonkers, but it all adds up to a great night out.