This month, Ticketmaster Groups had the pleasure of meeting up with three quarters of the cast of The 39 Steps backstage at the Criterion Theatre. Ben Righton plays the suave Richard Hannay, whilst Greg Haiste and Nick Holder have the unenviable challenge of playing over 100 characters between them.

Greg Haiste (GH); Nick Holder (NH); Ben Righton (BR)

Memory and The Compere

Nick Holder as The Compere & Greg Haiste as Mr. Memory. TRISTAM KENTON

Q: What are the challenges of playing multiple characters?

NH: It’s actually quite easy.

GH: Yeah, we’ve got a really great backstage crew, so you just walk in to the wings and get set upon by people who put you clothes on.

NH: We don’t do it!

GH: Initially, the challenge is trying to distinguish between the different characters, physicality’s and accents. A lot of it is set in Scotland, so you have to find distinctive Scottish accents.

NH: I found that when I read the script. I’ve got to do a Scottish accent – no I’ve got to do three Scottish accents and I don’t even know how to do one.

GH: It’s actually a thrill to play lots of different characters because you just get to…

NH: Show off!

GH: You even end up playing bits of the scenery at one point. You’re playing a bog, I’m playing a water feature, so it does sort of spiral out of control and that’s part of the joke.

Q: It is a very energetic play with a very busy schedule for such a small company – how do you manage it?

Hannay and Pamela The Box

Ellie Beaven as Pamela & Ben Righton as Richard Hannay. TRISTAM KENTON

BR: I think you learn what’s a serious problem and what’s not. Your body gets into the cycle of doing it. For the first month you literally feel jet lagged, sleeping through the days and the coming and performing at night, but then your body gets into it and you develop a ’39 Steps stamina’ which helps you through.

NH: It’s quite taxing physically.

GH: We do a warm up each day.

NH: Yep, star jumps or the alternative, gentle squats with arm raises…

GH: If you’re going to do a daily work out, you might as well do it when people are laughing at you.

 

Q: It’s the kind of play where there are loads of opportunities for ad libbing, how much of your own comedy do you bring to the performance and how do you keep it fresh?

GH: We play it slightly differently because different people laugh at different things, but it’s a deceptively tight show.

BR: It’s very choreographed; sort of like a dance really. If it looked like there was ad-libbing, then we’ve succeeded, because there wasn’t any. There’s that saying that comedy is a serious business and the idea is to make it look like it is chaos when in actual fact it’s very, very precise.

GH: Having said that, each gag you’re doing, you’re playing it according to how the audience react.

Q: And finally, why is it a good night out for groups?

GH: It’s fast paced fun.

NH: You can bring anyone to see it. Anybody you want without risk of offence.

BR: It’s completely joyous, there is nothing aimed to offend. It displays different types of theatre, loads of comedy; you couldn’t come out of this show doing anything other than smile. Even if you’re not into theatre, I think The 39 Steps is the perfect show to go and watch.