The 39 Steps: Sound design (direction, amplification, music, sound effects)

The 39 Steps: Sound design (direction, amplification, music, sound effects)

Sound Direction

  • Sound direction in “The 39 Steps” is often used to guide audience attention. Dramatic sound cues may indicate a scene change, surprise event, or character entrance.


  • Amplification is utilised to underscore conversation and sound effects. This is especially apparent during chase and suspense sequences where increased sound levels heighten tension.

Use of Music

  • The music in “The 39 Steps” is largely diegetic, meaning it originates within the world of the play. For instance, the bagpipe music heard at the Mr Memory show originates within the narrative, from the band on stage.
  • Non-diegetic music, which doesn’t originate within the story world, is also effectively integrated as a means of establishing mood. For example, tense, suspenseful music often plays during dangerous or suspenseful scenes.

Use of Sound Effects

  • One clever use of sound effects in “The 39 Steps” is the creation of off-stage locations. These ‘scenes’ appear to occur outside the view of the audience but are accentuated using sound. For instance, sounds of a train or police sirens can indicate locations or events beyond the stage.
  • Additionally, sound effects are used for comedic effect, emphasising slapstick moments and physical humour. For instance, exaggerated crashing or thumping sounds might accompany a character’s pratfalls.


  • Experimentation is a key component of the play’s sound design. Everyday items are often utilised to produce unique sound effects. This aspect encourages creativity and resourcefulness, two important elements of drama and theatre production.

Transition and Multi-Rolling

  • Another essential point to remember is that the sound design in “The 39 Steps” plays a crucial role in the fast-paced transitions and multi-rolling elements of the play. Chiming clocks, ringing phones, or slamming doors can all signal character or scene changes.

Origin as a Radio Play

  • Lastly, remember that “The 39 Steps” originated as a radio play. As such, sound design was an integral part of the narrative, establishing time, place, and mood. Therefore, understanding the dramatic potential of sound in this play is integral to a complete understanding of the text.