What do you imagine when you think of clowns?
White faces, red noses, and oversized shoes tend to be the norm.
Less often will suits, bowler hats and a strong throwing arm top the list.
Townsville Little Theatre will introduce three very new clowns to Townsville in their production of The 39 Steps this July. The high-speed show takes a classic spy story, made famous by the 1935 Hitchcock thriller, and turns it on its head in a side-splitting farce, made even wilder by the fact that more than 100 characters are played by just five actors.
The show’s clowns – Jessie Devine, David Lequerica and Glenn McCarthy – take on the bulk of those roles; playing heroes, villains, men, women, children and the occasional inanimate object.
“The original play has three men and one woman,” said Jessie “But our Director, Sonia Zabala, really wanted to break from that tradition and divvy up the characters for more gender bending throughout the play.”
Even with an added cast member, the show requires its clowns to operate at break-neck speed, with more than one costume change happening on stage, right before audience’s eyes.
“Each clown portrays so many different characters, so hats and accents play a huge part in telling the story,” David said. “Chaotic is the perfect word to describe it all because there’s so much happening.”
Jessie agreed: “We’re constantly helping each other out even when we aren’t on stage. With David, I have to know in the script when he’s playing his next character so I can throw him his next hat so he can swap and keep going – if I throw out the wrong hat, I’ve stuffed up that moment in that scene.”
For Glenn, that non-stop craziness is what gave The 39 Steps its appeal in the first place.
“Months ago, Sonia showed me a Youtube clip of this show – there’s only very specific clips of this off-Broadway production on there, but the one she showed me was so slick and the actors were so polished. As soon as I saw it, I knew I wanted to be a part of it!
“In the version I saw, the performers were professionals; I’m striving to get to that level … there is so much concentration involved but there is a lot of playfulness too. It is a hilarious script with some great characters.”
Jessie and David felt an immediate attraction to the script, too. David has strayed from his musical theatre roots to tackle a play for the first time, while Jessie passed up the opportunity to tour with the Australian Burlesque Festival to be in the show.
“I get to do burlesque all year round, but probably won’t get the chance to be in The 39 Steps again,”said Jessie. “I just had to do this because it is so different to everything I normally do.”
Despite the challenges, despite the non-stop physicality, and despite the chaos from day one, all three agreed the small cast size was making this show a memorable one to be part of.
“We are such a small cast and we all get along really well; it’s a lot of fun coming to rehearsals with what feels like your second family,” Jessie said. “I feel so grateful to be a part of it.”
Catch Townsville Little Theatre’s The 39 Steps at the Pimlico Performing Arts Centre from 24-27 July, with tickets available here.