The 39 Steps: stage directions

The 39 Steps: stage directions

Background and Importance of Stage Directions

  • The play, originally written by John Buchan and later adapted for the stage by Patrick Barlow, is heavily reliant on stage directions to convey the complex, fast-paced narrative effectively. Understanding these stage directions is crucial for performing actors and for analysing the play.

Type of Stage Directions in “The 39 Steps”

  • The stage directions in “The 39 Steps” often involve physical actions reflecting the energetic and farcical nature of the play. For example, characters frequently transition rapidly between different roles.
  • Minimalist staging is an essential aspect of The 39 Steps. Stage directions often indicate the usage of household objects or simple props to depict more extensive settings or dramatic scenes. Such improvisation adds a comic dimension to potentially tense sequences.
  • The mapping of positions on stage is explicit in many stage directions. Understanding the positioning of the characters and the importance of blocking is key in grasping the essence of the play.

Role of Stage Directions in Characterization

  • Stage directions provide insight into the characters’ state of mind and enhance characterisation. For instance, Richard Hannay’s initial directions reveal a bored and disgruntled character seeking adventure.
  • In many cases, stage directions depict the movement and interaction between the characters, providing profound insights into their relationships and emphasizing on the dramatic irony.

Use of Sound and Light Cues

  • Light and sound cues, which are integrated into the stage directions, play a pivotal role in setting the atmosphere and mood. For example, sudden shifts in lighting can signal changes in location or time.

Stage Directions and the Comedy in “The 39 Steps”

  • Stage directions suggesting exaggerated acting or slapstick are an integral part of the play’s comedy. They help in shifting between serious thriller and comic parody elements of the play.


Overall, studying the stage directions in The 39 Steps can aid in gaining deeper comprehension of the play’s themes and characters and can facilitate in successful interpretation and enactment of the script.