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New play, 39 Steps is next up at Century Church Theatre

August 25, 2022   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield 

The very famous 39 Steps is a novel, a Hitchcock film (the definitive version, 1935) and a play, where 150 characters are performed by four actors. This combination of thrills and farce is on offer by the team at Century Church Theatre in Hillsburgh: a challenge indeed. 39 Steps opens on Sunday, September 4 as a matinee at 2:33 p.m. and runs over the next the next two weekends to Sunday September 18: Fridays to Sundays.

Scott Williams has taken on the job of directing this piece and he took time to talk to the Citizen about the play, the actors and his own take on the virtues and importance of theatre as a whole, as well as theatre background.

A “whodunit” from the novel circa 1900 to one of Alfred Hitchcock’s earliest films, made in 1935, to a handful of actors reading and deciding to do it for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, 39 Steps has retained much of the Hitchcock version with its tremendous humour and repartee. 

In brief, this is about a normal man, Richard Hannah, a Canadian on holiday in London, England who becomes deeply embroiled with a spy ring, police pursuing him and desperate chases after he meets a beautiful woman, Annabella Schmidt who is murdered in his own apartment.

Said Mr. Williams, “This is meta-theatre with elements of farce into the very funny mix. People love to laugh. When we were doing shows with the theatre company I ran in Brampton, we sold out seven out of nine shows that were mainly comedies and the other two we could take a chance on something heavier or more thoughtful.”

A four-hander, 39 Steps is usually done with three men and one woman. For this production, there are two men and two women. Hannay is the consistent role; a female actor plays three other women and the other two actors, called ‘the Clowns’ play all the other characters. The play and the film follow the basic story line. There are plenty of references from the film with the jokes.

With just over two weeks to go, the actors are mainly off-book.

“The four actors are very strong,” Mr. Williams praised them. “I direct in a very organic co-operative way and for example, when an actor has a notion about a character, I listen. “This version is going to be unique and everybody’s having a good time, which is important.”

It seems to happen frequently in the industry that one play will become very popular in a summer. After years of being ignored, 39 steps is being done in 10 community theatres all around this region.

Having worked with Royal City Music Productions (RCMPI) and Guelph Little Theatre, Brampton Music Theatre and others, Scott Williams’ love of theatre comes from his philosophy about the prime benefit of live theatre.

“There’s a moment of complete connection where everybody’s routing for the same thing,” he said. “They want it to succeed. You go to see a play, wanting it to do what it’s meant to – whether to make people laugh or be moved. When you go to see the 39 Steps, you want to have a laugh and the person or stranger sitting next to you could be a person you wouldn’t necessarily want sitting by you but you are still in agreement that you want to have a laugh, want the play to succeed. That doesn’t happen at sports, for example…”

The last time he was involved in a live theatre production was a theatre-wide initiative called “We’re all in this together,” a support for theatre which was a mix at no cost for the rights, last November with [RCMPI, adding the “I” to differentiate the theatre company from the Police organization. They brought in people who had done this before.

“They did most of it on Zoom,” he told us. He was directing I love you, you’re perfect now change.

Yet, the strangeness of the Covid isolation came to roost at another time.

“Last summer,” he began, “Guelph Museum does John McCray. I directed a play there last summer, when we had our first in-person performances outdoors, for the first time in two years working together.”

Walking with two other people involved to the car he asked “Does anyone feel awkward?” They stood together to simply talk.

“All three of us arrived at a place of comfort but it was just odd.” was his telling.

The 39 Steps is an escape, Williams said as an answer to why people should buy tickets and come see it.

“A beautiful little bit of escapism in a shared experience,” admitting, “I like theatre over film for a variety of reasons. All it does is point the fact that is just theatre: you couldn’t do this [particular play, 39 Steps] on film. You’ve got to be present. It’s specifically winking at the audience.”

In Mr. Williams’ opinion, theatre is the actor’s craft, whereas film is the directors’ craft. He pointed out, “It’s the actors’ time; they’re on stage, in control. It’s their space with the full connection with the audience but in a real moving piece in the theatre you reach right across the lights.”

Mr. Williams wanted to take this opportunity to mention that his son is his assistant director for his first time directing. He is attending Humber College for comedy writing and performance. His daughter has directed and is directing Cabaret at River Run Theatre in Guelph. 

39 Steps is opens at Century Church Theatre, on Sunday, September 4 at 2:30 p.m. and runs through the following two weekends, Fridays to Sundays. For details about show times and Covid protocols, go to the website: and to purchase tickets, call the Box Office at 519-855-4586.

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