The 39 Steps: A Successful Return to the Stage

Grace Bromage


For lead actor Daniel Desmond ’22, last weekend’s performance marked his return to acting after almost eighteen months online. For him, it was “a relief” to be back to performing in person, especially for a comedic show like “The 39 Steps.”

“The 39 Steps” features Richard Hannay, an average bachelor living in London, whose life is turned upside down after he is framed for the murder of secret agent Annabella Schmidt. Hannay travels across Great Britain to find the man who can clear his name and to discover what exactly the 39 steps are. Along the way, Hannay is pursued by police officers and foreign agents and meets a wide assortment of characters, all played by four actors who rapidly switch between characters, often during the same scene.

Filled with physical comedy and witty dialogue, the play had the audience laughing and applauding throughout the show. I attended the Nov. 6 7:30 p.m. performance that featured the “London” cast, with Daniel Desmond ’22 as Richard Hannay. The “Ottawa” cast stars Nate Tanner ’22 as Hannay. While the actors were masked during rehearsals, they were able to remove their masks during the actual performance thanks to a large range of Covid-19 safety precautions.

Following the play, I spoke more with Daniel Desmond about his experience performing in-person. He believed that audience feedback was “absolutely vital” for this show, saying, “We’ll notice that the audience will laugh at things that we hadn’t anticipated, and because of that we adapt and it gives us a boost just knowing that people are enjoying a certain joke or physical choice. It’s really rewarding.” In addition to connecting with the audience, Desmond found joy in connecting to his fellow castmates, saying that they are “some of the warmest and funniest people I know” and that he doesn’t “think [he’s] ever felt quite so connected to a cast.”

While there are still a few shows left, Desmond’s favorite performance so far was the one on the night of Saturday, Nov 6. He and his castmates spent that performance experimenting with different ways of doing things, saying that “it’s nice to feel relaxed and free enough to try new things.”

Emma Kennelly ’23 of the Ottawa cast also elaborated on her experience with this performance. Out of the many roles she played during the two-hour running time, her favorite was “the old Scottish man, The Crofter,” an exciting and unique role for her. She also echoed that she enjoyed the return to in-person performing as “so much of acting is being able to connect with your fellow actors and that can be so difficult to do online.” 

As an audience member, I too felt the connections that are not possible on screen. As the actors underwent various costume changes, the lighting and sound portrayed different settings, and the main actor addressed the audience in his opening monologue, “The 39 Steps” came to life. I spent a vast majority of the play laughing and would definitely recommend “The 39 Steps” to anyone who wanted to see just how talented the actors in Holy Cross’ theater department are. 

For those who could not attend last weekend’s performances, the London cast will perform one last show on Nov. 13 at 2:00 p.m. and the Ottawa cast will perform two more shows on Nov. 12 and Nov. 13 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at hctheatreanddance.eventbrite.com.

Photos Courtesy of  Caroline Muniz ’23

Categories: features

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