Vancouver’s Circle Bright Productions is making Canadian theatre history of sorts by offering its upcoming production of The 39 Steps with Mandarin surtitles.
Not that the use of surtitles is new but it is the first time the parody, adapted by Patrick Barlow and based on the novel by John Buchan and Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film, will receive such a treatment.
“Due to the language barrier, there is a large number of Chinese speakers in Vancouver with limited access to great local theatre,” says Circle Bright founder and producer Hanying Chen.
With many potential Chinese audience members new to the country and still in the process of learning English, Chen acknowledges it can be intimidating for many to attend a full-length English language theatre production.
“At Circle Bright Productions, our priority is to produce live performances that are accessible to everyone, especially to the Chinese demographic,” she says.
“Our high-energy production and clown-like characters already engage audiences of all ages and languages, but having those surtitles is just icing on the cake to ensure our Chinese-speaking audiences are completely up-to-speed on the play’s fast-paced action,” adds director Sarah Rodgers.
Far from your typical thriller, The 39 Steps is a theatrical workout in which just four actors play over 100 characters in this cheeky parody of Hitchcock’s stylish mysteries.
Requiring lightning-fast changes, the quartet of actors is not only called upon to play multiple characters at once, they even play a few inanimate objects along the way.
The story follows Richard Hannay and Annabella Schmidt who, after a fight breaks out and a shot is fired in a London theatre, Annabella admits she is a spy hot on the heels of two assassins. Finding Annabella murdered in his apartment at midnight, it is up to Richard to prove his innocence while being pursued by both the police and the assassins.
“The 39 Steps is theatre at its best,” says Chen. “It has the most intriguing and fun elements that the audience will need to have a great time in the theatre. In addition to the mystery and romance elements of the story, some of the hilarious physical comedy will be very entertaining even without the surtitles.”
The 39 Steps plays the Norman Rothstein Theatre (950 W 41st Ave, Vancouver) March 1-10. Visit circlebrightproductions.com for tickets and information.