Rehearsing for Drury Lane’s production of “The 39 Steps.” Jeff Dumas watches as Peter Simon Hilton hangs upside down from the “bridge.” | Rob Dicker~Sun-Times Media
‘The 39 Steps’
Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace.
1:30 p.m. Wednesdays; 1:30 and 8 p.m. Thursdays; 8:30 p.m Fridays; 5 and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays and 2 and 6 p.m. Sundays, July 12 - Aug. 26.
$35-$46, with discounts available for students and senior citizens. Lunch and dinner packages available for $49.75-$68.
(630) 530-0111, www.drurylaneoakbrook.com
Updated: June 30, 2012 3:45PM
The man pedaling his bicycle on the trail behind Drury Lane Theatre will be chased by police and a spy organization later in the day.
That’s Peter Simon Hilton, who plays adventurer Richard Hannay in “The 39 Steps,” a comedy thriller based on the 1915 spy novel by John Buchen and the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film, playing at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace July 12-Aug. 26. The production is being directed by Sarah Siddons Award winner David New.
“The 39 Steps” is a fast-paced story about Hannay’s attempts to elude police and spies, discover the truth and clear his name after a female spy, who knows of a plot to steal British military secrets, is murdered in his apartment. Hannay is on the run throughout most of the play, from England to Scotland and back.
Hilton, who has played Hannay in the Alabama Shakespeare Theatre production of “The 39 Steps” and elsewhere, said actors have to be in shape for this play, which won two Tony Awards in 2008.
“We realize it’s a young man’s show and perhaps we’re not quite as young as we’d like to be. We do spend some time lying in a bath of Epsom salts after rehearsal,” Hilton joked. “But, it is very much a physical show.”
Hilton is physically fit anyway, running five times a week, but he’s added cycling to his morning exercise routine.
“One has to stretch beforehand, as well, and do all that sort of stuff too,” he said. “You don’t want to give yourself a back injury, or any injury, as it were.”
Hannay is a good role for Hilton. They’re both 37 years old, come from the same class background and both have a sense of adventure. They’re also British.
“I’m very attracted to the role,” he said. “Obviously, culturally I’m very aligned to it.”
He’s also played Hannay before.
“It’s a very different production that we’re doing here,” he said. “I can focus more on this role and this show. It’s in a very different theater space, as well. I’m looking forward to discovering a great many new things about doing the show.”
New, the director, said the Drury Lane production required some imagination and ingenuity since the action takes place in so many varied settings, including Hannay’s apartment, a train, a bridge, a plane crash, a Scottish manor, the London Palladium and more.
The play, and this production in particular, stretches the tension between what’s possible and not possible on stage, he said. For example, how do you show a man hanging from a bridge with two policemen in hot pursuit? How will this theater production pull off something that is easily done on a film set?
Hang it all
“Anything we use is something that can be found backstage at any theater, specifically any theater in 1935, when we set it. Nothing could be designed for the show,” he said. “We have two A-frame ladders and a straight ladder put across them and we create the bridge and the actor hangs from it and the other two actors crawl on top of it. You’d find three ladders backstage at any theater. What becomes a door? What becomes a window? What becomes the bed? When I was working with the designers, it was very tempting, especially at Drury Lane. They have some resources to really beautiful designs, but we kept returning to: Is it something that could be found backstage and made into something?”
New said directing is easy because of the people around him.
“It’s a huge undertaking and I’ve just been really savvy about it and surrounded myself with excellent collaborators in every position, including the four actors, extending to designers and production staff,” he said. “If I were doing it with less talented people, I think it would be more frenetic.”
Hilton said the actors have to hit the ground running, just like Hannay does. Don’ think. Just act.
“I mean, it’s a huge, big chase sequence with very little respite, so it’s a lot of fun as well,” he said. “I think all of us in the cast are very attuned to the fact it’s very important for us to enjoy what we’re doing, as well. We can’t take ourselves too seriously. You can’t do this as a method actor. It’s fun and it’s a romp and you have to get onboard and enjoy the hell out of it, and then the audience will as well.”