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Georgette McCready enjoys a football-free evening of action and comedy

If 22 men kicking one ball about wasn’t enough to thrill you this week, how about four actors playing 139 roles in 100 minutes of fast-paced, furious fun and thrills at the Theatre Royal Bath?

The 39 Steps makes a welcome return to Bath this week (running until Saturday 29 June) as part of a tour, following nearly a decade of success in the West End. From curtain up, we are immediately swept along by the action, the ingenious staging and the brilliant, often physical clowning, and it’s clear to see why this production has been garlanded with awards. And has kept audiences entertained for its freshness and sheer energy.

Alfred Hitchcock’s classic The 39 Steps, inspired itself by the thriller John Buchan, finds our hero, the dashingly handsome Richard Hannay, caught up in a series of high speed chases as he finds not only for his own freedom, but the honour of his country and for all decent, honest people, all set in the 1930s, a time when the shadow of war hung over the world. So, a period piece, but also chiming to our own time.

It’s a tribute to Patrick Barlow’s staging of this classic tale that we still feel that jeopardy, that sense of danger as we’re swept along by the story. Yes, it’s laugh out loud funny, but you also care what happens. Will the good guys outwit the dastardly villains, and will the couple so cruelly handcuffed together, finally overcome their British stiff upper lip and find love?

The ensemble cast, Tom Byrne (Richard Hannay), Safeena Ladha (Pamela, Annabella and Margaret), Eugene McCoy and Maddie Rice (playing all the other roles, each with distinction) were excellent, like jugglers who always have their eye on the ball and make the whole thing look effortless.

The audience clearly enjoyed themselves, laughing, cheering and delightedly identifying the Hitchcock Easter eggs, the references dotted throughout the show to North by Northwest, Rear Window and many other of his works. And you know how the rotound director used to always make a cameo appearance . . .? See if you can spot him.

It was good to be in the cool air-conditioned theatre as the heatwave descended on Bath this week. And hats off to the two cool-as-a-cucumber young women who attended wearing 1930s summer dresses, complete with vintage hair style and accessories. I reckon more of us should adopt this era-appropriate costume when attending the theatre. Although Shakespeare might feel a little ruff!?

The 39 Steps appears at the Theatre Royal Bath from Tuesday 25th to Saturday 29th June. To book tickets contact the Theatre Royal Bath Box Office on 01225 448844 or visit