4 actors + 60 characters = 39 Steps

It's impossible to know what John Buchan would think of the theatrical adaptation of his novel 39 Steps. He's been dead for 72 years.

It’s impossible to know what John Buchan would think of the theatrical adaptation of his novel 39 Steps. He’s been dead for 72 years.

But given how different it is, there is a possibility he wouldn’t even recognize it as his own work.

The play, which has its Whitehorse premiere this Thursday at the Guild Hall, is a far cry from the spy thriller that Buchan originally wrote.

The play isn’t just an adaptation of the novel, but an adaptation of an adaptation.

Alfred Hitchcock was the first to rework the novel. His version of 39 Steps premiered in 1935, the same year that Buchan was appointed governor general of Canada.

Hitchcock’s version was only loosely based on Buchan’s novel.

The British director turned the literary thriller into a film noir, adding a couple femme fatale characters for good measure.

In the 2005 theatrical version, writer Patrick Barlow turned Hitchcock’s 39 Steps from a thriller to a farce.

“It marries two genres, the film noir genre with a broad, vaudeville-style slapstick stage comedy,” said Clinton Walker, who is the director of the Yukon production of the play.

The play follows Richard Hannay, an unsuspecting Londoner who gets caught up in a plot to steal vital British military secrets.

While there are more than 60 characters in the play, there are only four actors in the cast.

George Maratos, who plays Hannay, might be the star of the show but with only one character to portray, he has it relatively easy.

Carrie Burgess, who plays both female roles, gets off pretty easy as well.

It’s Anthony Trombetta and Eric Epstein who shoulder the lion’s share of the acting work, with more than 60 roles shared between them.

Even the assistant stage managers get in on some of the jokes.

“They’re separate from the play,” said Walker. “I never pretend that they’re characters. We always know that they’re assistant stage managers, but sometimes I put a hat on them and make them run across the stage.”

Quite a few of the play’s jokes come from letting the audience see some of the work – and mistakes – that go on behind the scenes. And in this play there is quite a bit going on.

“There’s a lot of stage trickery,” said Walker. “There’s gunshots and things that flip upside down and become something else, backdrops that fly in and fly out. This is really a tough show to mount.”

The fact they were able to mount it at all is a testament to costume designer Kori Torigai, set designer Al Loewen and the rest of the design team, said Walker.

“It’s been interesting coming up with our sweet Guild Hall version,” he said. “It’s a real MacGyver go.”

The cast is also spectacular, said Walker. However, casting a show in Whitehorse is a challenge, and 39 Steps was no exception.

“There is no lack of talented people up here, it’s just that people have all sorts of creative endeavours going on,” he said.

To find the actors he needed, Walker made efforts to tap into Whitehorse’s vibrant stand-up and sketch comedy community.

“I really needed people in the workspace who had a real sense of play,” he said. “I always want someone who will bring work to the table.

“From the assistant stage manager right to myself, everyone’s got an equal say at the creative table. I’ve been very lucky landing the cast that I have.”

Though all the actors shine, it’s Trombetta who really steals the show, said Walker.

“Trombetta just kills it,” he said.

“He has a fearlessness that works so beautifully with this show.”

This is the third play Walker has directed for the Guild, but it’s the first comedy.

“The first two times I came up, both plays were pretty heavy – very intense, very graphic and violent,” he said. “Pretty mature themes where people left the theatre feeling quite desolate. Not really the thing you want to program in the middle of the winter.”

He told the Guild that if he came back he wanted to do a comedy, and 39 Steps is full of laughs.

“We’ve been trying to do a gag a page, he said. “We’re getting pretty close to it.”

Walker hasn’t read the original novel, but he did recently watch the film.

“There was a real solid, if not subtle, sense of humour in the film,” said Walker. “I don’t know how Alfred Hitchcock would feel about it. He seems like sort of a serious cat, but I think ultimately would appreciate that the work lives on and is not being made fun of but being celebrated.”

The play premieres Feb. 9 at the Guild Hall. It runs until Feb. 15.

Contact Josh Kerr at


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, speaks at a press conference in Whitehorse on March 30. Hanley announced three more COVID-19 cases in a release on Nov. 21. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Three more COVID-19 cases, new exposure notice announced

The Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Brendan Hanley, announced three… Continue reading

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: COVID-19 strikes another blow at high-school students

They don’t show up very often in COVID-19 case statistics, but they… Continue reading

The Cornerstone housing project under construction at the end of Main Street in Whitehorse on Nov. 19. Community Services Minister John Streicker said he will consult with the Yukon Contractors Association after concerns were raised in the legislature about COVID-19 isolation procedures for Outside workers at the site. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Concerns raised about alternate self-isolation plans for construction

Minister Streicker said going forward, official safety plans should be shared across a worksite

The Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley, pictured at a press conference in October, announced three new cases of COVID-19 on Nov. 20 as well as a new public exposure notice. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
New COVID-19 cases, public exposure notice announced

The new cases have all been linked to previous cases

Beatrice Lorne was always remembered by gold rush veterans as the ‘Klondike Nightingale’. (Yukon Archives/Maggies Museum Collection)
History Hunter: Beatrice Lorne — The ‘Klondike Nightingale’

In June of 1929, 11 years after the end of the First… Continue reading

Samson Hartland is the executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines. The Yukon Chamber of Mines elected a new board of directors during its annual general meeting held virtually on Nov. 17. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Yukon Chamber of Mines elects new board

The Yukon Chamber of Mines elected a new board of directors during… Continue reading

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has released its annual report for 2019-20, and — unsurprisingly — hospital visitations were down. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Annual report says COVID-19 had a large impact visitation numbers at Whitehorse General

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has released its annual report for 2019-20, and… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

City council was closed to public on March 23 due to gathering rules brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The council is now hoping there will be ways to improve access for residents to directly address council, even if it’s a virtual connection. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Solution sought to allow for more public presentations with council

Teleconference or video may provide opportunities, Roddick says

Megan Waterman, director of the Lastraw Ranch, is using remediated placer mine land in the Dawson area to raise local meat in a new initiative undertaken with the Yukon government’s agriculture branch. (Submitted)
Dawson-area farm using placer miner partnership to raise pigs on leased land

“Who in their right mind is going to do agriculture at a mining claim? But this made sense.”

Riverdale residents can learn more details of the City of Whitehorse’s plan to FireSmart a total of 24 hectares in the area of Chadburn Lake Road and south of the Hidden Lakes trail at a meeting on Nov. 26. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)
Meeting will focus on FireSmart plans

Riverdale residents will learn more details of the City of Whitehorse’s FireSmarting… Continue reading

The City of Whitehorse is planning to borrow $10 million to help pay for the construction of the operations building (pictured), a move that has one concillor questioning why they don’t just use reserve funds. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Councillor questions borrowing plan

City of Whitehorse would borrow $10 million for operations building

Most Read