Frenetically paced comedy in ‘The 39 Steps’

The cast have at least as much fun as the audience in «The 39 Steps,» a frenetically paced comedy adaptation of John Buchan’s classic novel, now playing at the Embros Theater in Psyrri. This is «poor theater» at its most inventive. As the action moves from London to Scotland, the actors continuously reconfigure Michalis Kokkoliadis’s ingeniously simple set of just a few trestles, planks and ladders into the Forth Bridge, a railway carriage, an airplane or a bed. Brooms morph into airplane propellers, a mop reappears as a sheep and a feather boa makes a hilarious seagull with the simple addition of sound effects created by the actors themselves. With many a nod to Hitchcock, who made a film version of the same story, this production by the London-based European Arts Company uses music to heighten the tension and humor to defuse it. Corpses rebound and rise from the dead, characters adopt a bewildering series of identities, while deception and illusion reign. The cast – John O’Connor, Joanna Croll, Charlie Buckland and Daniel Tatarski – with perfect timing and teamwork, fire off a non-stop battery of visual and verbal jokes in counterpoint to the thrills and heroics of the story. Director Jonathan Kemp’s production keeps a nicely judged distance from both hero and villains, balancing the bland uprightness of the former against the savory wickedness of the latter. The European Arts Theater, which specializes in presenting British plays to international audiences, provides sheer entertainment but also an excellent opportunity for anyone interested in seeing high-quality live theater in English. Language-school owners and teachers take note. Embros Theater, 2 Riga Palamidi Street, Psyrri, tel 210.323.8990, till Saturday.

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