Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps is, in a word, a wild goose chase after an elusive and clever man named Richard Hannay. His enemies in the play, whether it be the London police or the 39 Steps themselves, are bloodthirsty and cunning, threatening his life at every turn. However, Joe Landry’s parodical adaptation sheds more of a humorous light on such a previously serious plot.
Landry aims not to mock spy thrillers of the 1930s, rather turn it up to eleven, making it extra theatrical and over the top. The exaggerated performances help the audience laugh at what would normally be such a serious show. One could use such a laugh during these trying times: Covid has pulled out the proverbial rug from under us, making us feel unsure and unsafe, and it has been hard to find solace in anything, considering most of it is virtual. By parodying one’s tragedies, one can bring light to their occasional ridiculousness and make us all feel a little better about ourselves in our time of need.
And isn’t a lighthearted SNL-style parody of a once dramatic and serious play exactly what we need? Alfred Hitchcock couldn’t have foretold the comparisons between pre-WWII Britain and present-day America, but the propaganda and dramatization of current events reflect an old-timey, over the top spy radio show. Furthermore, Landry may not have known of our current predicament when writing his play, but he was aware of the positive effect parodies can have on an audience. Daniel Sloss, a comedian known for his jokes about his personal tragedies, once said that “The opposite of sadness is not laughter… Sometimes laughter can be a part of sadness”. In the trauma and sadness that Covid has spread all over the world, we need laughter, and we’ve been brought solace with comedy with The 39 Steps.