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November 6, 2009

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Staging thriller, sleuth classics

MIX a Hitchcock masterpiece with a thrilling spy novel, add a dash of Monty Python, and you have "The 39 Steps," a comic thriller for anyone from nine to 90.

One of the best-received dramatic plays in both the West End and Broadway, it will premiere tonight at the Shanghai Drama Arts Theater.

Four actors will play 31 characters - or rather, more than 150 of them - in less than 100 minutes.

It is the first time the classic work by John Buchan has been performed in Chinese. It is also the first time a Shanghai audience will have the opportunity to watch a popular play simultaneously with theater-goers in both London and New York, says producer Li Shengying.

Adapted from the 1915 novel by Buchan, "The 39 Steps" was brought to the silver screen by Alfred Hitchcock back in 1935. The stage version, written by Patrick Barlow, premiered in London in 2005. In 2007, it was awarded Best Comedy at the Olivier Award, and then it opened on Broadway.

Director Yang Shipeng first watched the play in London about a year ago. He was impressed by the audience's roars of laughter.

"It was an afternoon but the theater was packed," he recalls. "The London audience is known for being sophisticated and picky. I had never seen the audience so excited in a London theater."

The veteran director found the original novel right after the show and realized that he had to bring it to China.

The story revolves around Richard Hannay, an innocent man who witnesses a murder before being pursued across Scotland, where he has incredible adventures. He returns to London afterward to foil the villain's dastardly plans.

There are 31 roles involved - the number could reach 150 if you count people from a parade in one scene. But there are only four fearless actors.

The leading role Hannay will be performed by Wang Yong, while three female characters will be performed by Xie Chengying. All the other characters will be illustrated by two talented actors, Shen Lei and Li Jianhua.

"There will be nonstop laughs," director Yang promises.

The stage setting will be very simple. Yang has incorporated traditional Chinese shadow play techniques to present 35 fascinating scenes including a plane crash and jump into a river.

Meanwhile, another Broadway detective classic, "Sleuth," will also be performed in Chinese for the first time in the city.

A signature work of British playwright Anthony Shaffer, it was made into successful movies in 1972 and 2007. The first starred Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine, and the second was produced and performed by Jude Law.

Andrew Wyke is a wealthy, unhappily married detective novelist who is obsessed with the inventions and deceptions of fiction. He lures his wife's lover, Milo Tindle, an unemployed actor, to the house and convinces him to stage a robbery of her jewelry.

This sets off a chain of events, leaving the audience to decide which parts belong to Wyke's imagination and which parts are reality.

"Sleuth" will be performed in Mandarin with Chinese subtitles. Both plays are part of the Shanghai International Contemporary Theater Festival to be launched on November 15.

"The 39 Steps"

Date: November 6-15, December 8-20 (closed on Mondays), 7:30pm

Tickets: 100-200 yuan


Date: November 19-December 6 (closed on Mondays), 7:30pm

Tickets: 120-200 yuan

Venue: Shanghai Drama Arts Theater, 288 Anfu Rd

Tel: 6473-0123


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