The 39 Steps : It can’t get better than this!
The real heroes of the play are the backstage crew members since it was their efficiency due to which the 4 actors were able to perform to the best of their abilities.
The name Nida Butt is synonymous with the innovative theater in Pakistan as she does what others don’t attempt. When nobody dared to do a musical in Karachi, she went that way and excelled and now she has dared to come up with a spoof version of a classic Hollywood flick and succeeded. The 39 Steps was both a tribute to the Alfred Hitchcock classic as well as a ‘step’ in the right direction since it brings back the audience to ‘classic’ theatre.
Just like the film that came out in 1935, the play revolved around Richard Hannay (Faraz Lodhi) who gets involved in a conspiracy that could push Great Britain towards the war. Hannay meets a German spy, a villager, a professor, (real and fake) police as well a female stranger and while some help him, others don’t making this play a classic mystery where no one is to be trusted.
The language of the play – English – might restrict the audience to just a few hundred but all theatre enthusiasts must watch it to know how theatre can be improved in the country. There were sequences – where Hannay was running in the field being chased by airplanes, where police constables were chasing him on a train and where he confronts the antagonist just before the interval – that no one can produce better than Nida Butt.
In what can be termed as her first non-musical, she excels as the director and does justice to John Buchan, the novelist who penned The 39 Steps 100 years back. For those who had seen the film, the play offers nothing new but the way it moves forward is what makes it excellent. Sanam Saeed plays as many as 3 characters in the play that are different in every aspect. Be it her accent, her looks or her dialogue delivery, she was perfect in every role.
She was at home delivering dialogues in her ‘first language’ while Faraz Lodhi was equally good as the protagonist. Ali Hashmi and Zeeshan Shah played the remainder of the roles, sometimes even switching characters mid-scene without mixing their accents even once.The play loses its pace in the second half for a few minutes but when all seems a drag, the actors raise the bar and engage the audience till the very end.
The real heroes of the play are the backstage crew members since it was their efficiency due to which the 4 actors were able to perform to the best of their abilities. The production quality was by far the best I have witnessed in the last 10 years (except for plays by Nida Butt and Shah Sharabeel).
The way the sets changed during scenes, the actors depicted the change in weather and the impact of sound effects was wonderfully done. Nida Butt proved with the play that she doesn’t need music to get public’s attention – there are other ways to bring them to the theatre. One step at a time!