Concept Players The 39 Steps

Written by John Buchan

Based on Alfred Hitchcock's film

Adapted by Patrick Barlow

From an original concept by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon 


This has to be one of the funniest shows you will ever see and one of the biggest challenges for any theatre company. Hundreds of characters played by just four actors, this is a tour-de-force of acting and technical ability, where we were able to show that we were more than capable of putting on such a demanding show.

It came about because Ruairidh happened to stumble across the fact that an amateur company somewhere in England were putting it on and he thought why not us here in Wales. No one we knew had put it on to our knowledge though we knew the professional tour had come to Cardiff some years before. Ruairidh had always said that this was a show he had wanted to direct since he saw it when it was first in London. However, true to form, we did not follow the current West End production slavishly - it was just not possible due to our need to tour and the size of our van - so we were more inventive (if that is possible). One audience member said how much he had enjoyed the show and having seen the original in London, thought we had actually put in more business!

Casting is never easy but key to a great cast is ensuring that in a play of this complexity, that they gel and can trust one another. Laurence Clarke who was last seen in Anything Goes but is most memorable in his portrayal of the Judge in Sweeney Todd and as the eponymous king in Henry V played our Hannay. He has the right balance of perfect delivery, dashing good looks and quite some deliberate cheek! Never over playing the lead he was perfect as the innocently accused hero and brought the house down every night with his early antics as he tried to extract himself from underneath the beautiful corpse of Annabella Schmidt. Paired for much of the second act with the attractive but haughty Pamela, played in a beautifully clipped performance by Claire Hovey, he had his work cut out to prove his innocence.

Claire also played many other parts alongside Paul Buckle and Ellie Hoare. Billed just as the clowns but playing all manner of characters, often across genders resulted in hilarious consequences. Particular highlights were the cheeky underwear salesmen, the surly crofter and his lovely wife, the dopey heavies, the curiously hirsute Mrs Jordan, the baddie Professor, Mr McQuarrie, the McGarrigles and, of course, Mr Memory. The sequence on the Flying Scotsman was surely worth the ticket price alone!

Backstage was just a hectic as what mayhem was on stage. Helen and Eleri ensuring that they got every one changed at breakneck speed. Fiona keeping the backstage crew running like clockwork and, of course, Ellie and Kevin on lights and Laura on sound. We even put in extra speakers to get the right sound we wanted (thanks to Laura and Nick) and at times it was like surround sound in the auditorium.

This really was a whirlwind of our talents and so much fun to do and it has been award-tastic!

Concept Players' awards for The 39 Steps

Firstly, we won the NODA Award for Best Technical/Stage Management and Laurence was nominated for Best Individual then on June 15th we attended the annual Glamorgan Drama League’s award ceremony, affectionately known as the Glammies to see if we would win anything as we were nominated in 2 acting categories – Best Actor and Best Actress, twice in each. Laurence was nominated for Richard Hannay and Claire, Paul and Ellie were nominated for the myriad of all the other characters. In the end we won neither of those two awards but we did win Best Presentation and the inaugural Best Director Award, the Suzi Stacey Award, which went to Ruairidh for his direction. And then when it couldn’t get much more exciting, we won the Best Play against some stiff competition. So it was some night but the cherry on top of the cake, as we were immediately reminded on stage when we collected the Best Play trophy, was that this meant that, for the first time, the winners would go through to the National Drama Festival Associations 40th All British Winner’s Festival in Teignmouth in Devon on 15th July. That meant resurrecting the play in 4 weeks to competition standard. Concept Players winning at the Glamorgan Drama League Glammies

                                            Winning at The Glammies

So we had the busiest 4 weeks of our lives – rebuilding set, hunting out the costumes again, re-learning lines and a whole host of other activities that needed to be done. And this was on top of also being involved in our Concert (of that, more later). But rehearsals went well – we only had ten and only had four of those with the whole cast assembled and only two full technical rehearsals within the ten. Luckily everyone was really behind the venture and though a lot of hard work, we also enjoyed going back to what had been great fun last September. The weekend of 15th July was a scorcher as we travelled down en-masse to Teignmouth. The festival was being held in a nice little theatre, a bit like the Paget Rooms, down on the sea front by the pier. It was well equipped and the people there could not have been more welcoming and friendly. We got into the theatre at 10am on the Sunday and the performance was at 7pm sharp. So it was all hands to the deck as we unloaded our trusty van and started to put together the set and props. No one was left idle and it was a busy few hours.

Unfortunately the lighting technician had not been given our plotting nor did he know the set up of the lights as he was employed just for the festival and, as the festival was starting that day, he was hampered. So much time was spent in the afternoon organising the lights and with over 90 lighting cues this put our lighting technician, Kevin, to the test. Sound was a little easier, if we can use such a term with this play, but Laura did us proud with over 200 sound cues! We only just managed to get in a rehearsal on the day and, before we knew it, it was curtain up.

The performance went really well and the audience, though small (due to the last minute nature of determining the festival acts there was not much obvious publicity about the town for the play itself), they were laughing from the very beginning. At the end, the adjudicator, who sat on the middle of the auditorium got up and spoke to us and the audience for 30 minutes on what he had expected and what he got. And he loved it. A few small things were picked up on – all last minute technical hitches but he said it was “95% there” – we were glad of that and he thought we were very brave to take such a technical show to competition! After a well deserved curry in a local restaurant, we then went home – what a weekend!

The following weekend we returned to Teignmouth to find out our fate. Still in the sweltering heat, Ruairidh, Laura and Paul represented Concept and watched the final full length play and after their adjudication the awards were given by Derek Grattidge, President of the National Operatic and Dramatic Association, and the Mayor of Teignmouth, Cllr June Green. And we won 3 out of the 4 awards available - the Mary Blakeman Trophy for the Winner of the Full Length Section, the Sydney Fisher Trophy for Backstage and the Halifax Evening Courier Award for Audience Appreciation! So what a night in Teignmouth! There was fulsome feedback from those who attended the festival and thanks to all those who came and supported us – we appreciated it.

So there is our tale – we are now proud national champions – who would ever have believed this is where we would end up? We are on top of the world!

Concept PLayers win at the Nationals

                           Paul, Ruairidh & Laura with our National Awards



Claire as the beautiful crofter's wife, Margaret


The wonderful, but quiet,

 Mr McQuarrie

Hannay tries to get to The Palladium

Hannay escaping to the Palladium


Escape across the moors


Ellie as the baddie!