a review by Lady Whistledown
Directed by: Meheer Zaveri and Sanjay Yapabandara | Starring: Arnav Shetty, Kate Mountain, Campbell Wilson, Charlie Hua, Vered Lalrinpuii, Nusrat Asad, Lauren Lovegrove, Archa Gamage, Jim Wong | Sound and lighting: Richard Henchman and Hope Finegold | Administration, Front of House, Everything: Catherine Trueman
Saturday 20th May. The McMillan Building Refectory is buzzing with friends, family, Paulines past and present, as we eagerly await the Impresario’s Players and their interpretation of The 39 Steps. Directors Meheer Zaveri and Sanjay Yapabandara are the last remaining members of the Impresario’s Players, a troupe that has not been seen since late 2020. The two have worked tirelessly to bring the theatre back to Graduate House, ably supported by their cast and crew. The stage is empty but for a blue velvet chair, and a side table adorned with whisky…
Patrick Barlow’s ‘The 39 Steps’ was a perfectly pitched vehicle by which to resurrect the Impresario’s Players. Entertaining from start to finish, with some superb comic timing and slapstick humour throughout, each cast member was allowed to shine and show off their many and various strengths.
From the get-go Arnav Shetty was charming as Richard Hannay. Afforded a chance to wear his new matching tweed vest and trousers, Arnav looked at home in the world he had created for himself. His lines were delivered with poise and always excellent timing. A particular highlight was the exchange in the Music Hall about Pamela’s Uncle, the commissioner of Scotland Yard, “Bob? Bob’s your Uncle?”
In order of appearance, Lauren Lovegrove, Vered Lalrinpuii and Nusrat Asad shone in small but integral supporting roles. Lauren was dynamic as the MC in the music hall, introducing Vered’s hilarious Mr Memory – shall we ever be certain of the Dean’s age? Both characters will return to play an essential part in the story later down the track, but no spoilers shall be found here. Enter Nusrat as Annabelle and the story really begins! Nusrat delivers a very fine performance in her debut with the Impresario’s players, and sets up what we are now sure will be a rollercoaster for the remaining hour and a half.
The 39 Steps was first adapted by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon who, apart from having excellent names, condensed it to only four actors. This to me seems an extraordinary feat, especially considering the volume of characters portrayed throughout the evening by Charlie Hua and Campbell Wilson. I began by writing them down, but stopped at 10 characters as the list was never-ending. These two were hilarious every time they stepped on stage, from their first appearance as thugs by a lamppost to Campbell’s many appearances as various wives, and Charlie’s blond moustache. Special mention must go to Campbell as the Professor’s wife in a fetching backless pink dress, and to Charlie’s sartorial combination of sports shorts, vest and tie. Both actors displayed range, comic timing and a sense of fearlessness as they navigated genders, ages and various miscellaneous accents.
Jim Wong made an appearance as Jim Wong reading the news. Jim’s delivery of his lines is in the classic Jim Wong style, hilariously well-timed and with just the right level of dry wit. From the second he was wheeled onto the stage the audience ate up his every word.
Special mention must go to Meheer Zaveri’s very fine Scottish accent, as his character John struck fear into the hearts of all present. His commitment was extraordinary, as were the argyle socks that left us in no doubt of his nationality. Archa Gamage as his beautiful, very slightly unfaithful, long-suffering wife was stunning as she provided a humorous distraction to the protagonist on his journey.
Here I must make mention of the excellent choices re lighting and sound. Where romance was involved, the scene turned to a vivid purple; when we crossed into Scotland the bagpipes ably assisted our imagination, and there were countless times where the audio and lighting expertly guided our interpretation of this wonderful play. Richard Henchman and Hope Finegold took charge of these roles with professionalism, and didn’t miss a single beat.
When Sanjay Yapabandara appeared as the Professor, we knew we were in safe hands. His elite-level power move to force the protagonist to push him across the stage on a desk chair was an extraordinary opening (I will be borrowing this), and it only got more entertaining from there. Sanjay’s accents were both fantastic, and he transformed seamlessly from the exceedingly lovely Sanjay we all know around the house to the ruthless head of a secret spy ring, details about which were soon to be revealed.
Kate Mountain’s Pamela was not easily won over by Richard and his fanciful stories of murders he was somehow present for but did not commit. Kate was poised and strong, not giving an inch to Arnav’s Richard until they inevitably fell head over heels for each other. Kate’s delivery of each of her lines showed a strong young woman who wasn’t afraid to be so, and her speaking voice could easily be imagined as a future audiobook narrator. Perhaps a side hustle is in order?
As the story came to its resolution in an all-out showdown in the Music Hall, Vered and Lauren returned as Mr Memory and the MC. The Dining Hall space was cleverly used as the Professor appeared in a theatre ‘box’ at the back of the hall, and pointed the ‘real but fake but real’ blue gun at Mr Memory. Special mention must go to the sobs of Lauren Lovegrove, as she mourned the loss of her friend Mr Memory.
As they say in the theatre, a quick resolution is a good one, and suddenly we were back where we began. Can a jaded bachelor change his ways? Will the decorators ever leave his flat? Apparently so.
I hope the celebrations post-closing were plentiful, as they were thoroughly deserved. This reviewer only hopes that the weekend’s theatrical offerings were the start of even more 5 star evenings from the Impresario’s Players.