Auckland Theatre Company's season opener is a bubbly confection that gently lampoons the intrepid heroism of John Buchan's tautly written thriller set in the tumultuous years leading to the outbreak of World War I.
The show captures something of the original's rollicking sense of adventure, and the high-spirited cast has great fun staging action sequences that feature zeppelins, low-swooping biplanes and a frantic chase on a fast-moving train.
The hero of the original The Thirty Nine Steps, Richard Hannay, represented a straightforward patriotism that is out of tune with our irony-laden times. His gallantry set the standard for a succession of gentlemen adventurers, but in Ross Gumbley's adaptation the resourceful man of the hour becomes a bumbling upper-class twit - closer to Austin Powers than James Bond.
The strategy is often amusing but seldom inspiring, and it is difficult to engage with a hero whose triumphs are almost always because of good luck or the timely intervention of the minor characters.
But if the leading man is rather timidly drawn, writer-director Gumbley shows flair in creating a menagerie of eccentric characters who profitably mine the comic potential of the English class system.
The fast-paced staging draws on the exaggerated melodrama of the music-hall tradition, and Cameron Rhodes is thoroughly at home with the tone of the piece. His exuberant theatricality breathes life into a host of quirky characters, and his sharply timed asides are finely tuned to the play's droll sense of humour.
Stephan Papps' performance is infused with a creepy gothic weirdness that really hits the spot in his hilarious portrayal of a libidinous Scottish spinster.
Lisa Chappell's talents seem wasted on a series of silly characters, but she throws herself into the venture with an infectious enthusiasm and manages to bring a hint of the glamorous femme fatale to the under-written heroine.
Mike Edward looks the part of the dashing hero and delivers a highly energised performance that wins plenty of laughs - his goof-ball physicality is particularly effective as he leaps from a moving train or struggles to keep his feet after imbibing a sleeping potion.
All aspects of the production are finely crafted with loving attention to detail - most notably in Elizabeth Whiting's superb costume design that delights in the luxuriant textures of period tweeds and tartans.
What: The Thirty Nine Steps.
Where: Maidment Theatre until March 7.