A handful of actors playing many characters in one play can be a recipe for disaster.

Unless that's the way it is supposed to play out.

Four actors from 16th Ave theatre are taking on approximately 60 characters in The 39 Steps, and their failure to pull it off just adds to the hilarity.

The 39 Steps play adaption is a much different scenario from the original novel and 1935 Alfred Hitchcock movie, as well as the remake North by Northwest starring Cary Grant in 1959.

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The ''man on the run'' theme remains throughout but the stage adaption is a whirlwind farce — a physical comedy where much of the humour comes from a few actors taking on multiple characters.

Director Dylan Frewin says the stage adaption of The 39 Steps is an ''absolute riot''.

Two actors in particular swap between characters to the point of absurdity. Clown one and two must make split second changes — sometimes on stage — and adopt a new physicality and vocality. Realism sometimes goes out the window.

''It's manic, it really is an exercise in athleticism and you have to be a very, very talented performer to in order to differentiate between these characters.

''It is done purposely, sometimes these things just cannot be achieved and the cast can't manage the task so things sort of break down on purpose.''

Sometimes characters will only be recognised by the swapping of hats.

''The hardest job was the train scene because three actors play three characters each and all they can do in this scene is hold three hats in a one go, changing their hat back between characters. It doesn't even try to be real. They can't help but fail.''

The interesting and ''giant challenge'' of directing The 39 Steps is directing two shows, Frewin says. That is, the cast and crew backstage too.

The backstage helpers need to be directed. Items are flying offstage and things are getting thrown onstage.

''Things are flying around and the set is rolling on and off, they are throwing things to actors onstage — it all has to be completely and utterly planned.''

Main character Richard Hannay is played by Mick Lister, the ordinary man who stumbles into an extraordinary adventure. Joining him on stage is actress Virginia Mabey who plays three characters, clown one is 16th Ave Theatre president Sarah Oemcke and clown two is played by Marcus Blum.

Oemcke says this is Frewin's first time in the director's chair at 16th Ave and he has had great vision tackling the challenging stage show.

She has never done a play like this. She plays 11 characters ''but the crazy part is not the number of characters but the number of times we have to change between them. One hat off, one hat on, change coat, run, hat off, hat on ...

''At first it was really tricky, especially as we have to change voice/accent for each character as well. Probably the hardest is I play three different old Scottish men. They have to all be different and distinguishable. I only play one woman in the whole show. Marcus plays more women than I do.''


Synopsis: Mix a Hitchcock masterpiece with a juicy spy novel, add some Monty Python humour and you have the intriguing, thrilling and riotous comedy. The show hurtles a notorious fugitive and a blonde from a London music hall to Scotland's most remote highlands. Will they save Britain from a den of devious spies?
WHAT: The 39 Steps
WHERE: 16th Ave Theatre
WHEN: September 7-22
iTicket.co.nz