Martina Sardelli interviews Ed Polsue and Ellie Hope, director and producer of 'The 39 Steps', an adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock's film of the same name which opens at the Byre Theatre on the 12th of February.
After getting lost on the Scores I enter the Russell Pub, awaiting Ed Polsue, director, and Ellie Hope, producer, of ‘The 39 Steps’, a play based on Alfred Hitchocks’ 1935 film of the same name. The play is equal parts intrigue and fun and is set to make for a thoroughly enjoyable evening of theatre. I sit down with the duo, who are glowing despite it being a demanding last week of rehearsals. Ed has the laid-back look and mannerisms of a silver screen actor: you could easily picture him at a cocktail party with Cary Grant; whilst Ellie has a sharp, clever look in her eye: she looks like the type of person you would be scared to play chess against. The two emanate an infectious sort of enthusiasm and it is hard not to get swept up in the excitement they feel for the play they are soon to put on.
Martina Sardelli for The Saint: Ed, could you please introduce Ellie and Ellie, could you please introduce Ed?
Ed: This is Ellie Hope, she is the producer of ‘The 39 Steps’, a very good one too. I approached her at a birthday party, perhaps somewhat under the influence. I asked her if she wanted to produce ‘The 39 Steps’ and she said yes.
Ellie: This is Ed, he is the director of ‘The 39 Steps’ and he was once actually in it! He approached me at a birthday party and asked me if I wanted to be the producer. I think I was talking to a friend when he approached me.
Martina for The Saint: Ed, this is your first full shot at directing, was it scary?
Ed: It’s an interesting new challenge! It sounds so corny doesn’t it? To be corny: it’s an interesting new challenge, but I love it. I really do love it, though it’s a lot more hard work.
Ellie: Yes, it’s definitely more difficult.
Ed: Not to detract from the quality of my actors, they are sterling.
Martina for The Saint: How did you get the idea to do this play? Did you wake up from a feverish dream one night and think: “I must absolutely do this”?
Ed: I think there are a lot of plays with some kind of underwritten agenda.
Ellie: Yes, a lot of very serious plays, which are very, very good but sometimes there seems to be a lack of comedies.
Ed: There is a distinct lack of people going to the theatre just to have a good laugh and have fun, and I think that’s a shame. I just remember what a sheer laugh I had in school doing it and it was sort of “why not?”.
Martina for The Saint: How about you, (to Ellie) is this the first time you’re producing something?
Ellie: I have produced a play before in the Barron, but this is in the Byre which is a much bigger space, so it’s quite different.
Martina The Saint: Have you acted in the past?
Ellie: Yes, I have been in some plays and produced one this time last year. But this is very different because the play involves many different pieces of lighting, set…
Ed: I’m grateful towards Ellie for taking over the mantle.
Ellie: It’s been great. It’s such a funny play, the rehearsals are great fun.
Martina for The Saint: I’m guessing it must have helped to have a good cast?
Ed: Everyone in the cast is such a hard worker.
Ellie: They’re really fun.
Ed: Again, the whole point of this is to just enjoy it and to have fun. I want the thing to be good but I obviously never wanted the whole thing to become a chore. That’s always the danger with doing theatre.
Ellie: It shouldn’t feel like going to class, it should be something fun to do.
Martina for The Saint: Have you ever seen the production of ‘The 39 Steps’ live before?
Ellie: I haven’t, but a couple of our actors have!
Ed: I’ve seen it on the West End. However, one thing I’ve been very pleased with is that we tried to incorporate random ideas we had during rehearsal into the production; and there have been several moments when we thought:” We could make this part of the script so much better by adding our own little thing” and we have done. That has been our aim, to make the must up to date, St Andrews version we could.
Martina for The Saint: What is the most exciting part about putting a play on?
Ellie: For me, it’s this bit: where you can see it starting coming together. Seeing all the things you have been putting in place for a long time, come together as a whole.
Ed: I’m thinking when the curtain first goes up on opening night. Ellie and I will be up in the tech-box and we have no control regarding what happens from then on. The thing about doing this play is that it needs an audience: you read the people in the audience and you play it to them.
Ellie: You can’t quite catch the atmosphere with only two people in the room. That’s very true.
Ed: This whole production has been full of exciting moments, for example, the other day we took 30s-style headshots for all the characters and for some reason that was so incredibly exciting. The whole thing has been mad-cap and about getting all the set and the props together, so the occasion when you find something in a charity shop or some obscure corner of the internet and then you get a new hat in the post or something, that’s weirdly exciting.
Ellie: You get very attached to small details and then when you find the right thing, it’s such a satisfying moment.
Ed: Those little things matter: I think that’s the difference between a high production value and a low production value.
Martina for The Saint: Would you ever switch roles: so, Ed, producing and Ellie, directing?
Ed: I would never be able to produce; I think I would make a rotten job of it. A lot of the time I’ve consulted Ellie about what she thought of a certain rehearsal, you know what I mean?
Ellie: You’ve done things that were “my role” as well, such as finding things; when putting up a play there is this big grey area: whoever is available ends up doing the things, especially when you have this little time.
Ed: Another thing that has been nice about this play has been that people who wouldn’t normally get involved with theatre got involved in this. I think a bizarre thing theatre suffers from is that “theatricals” tend to do it and not other people.
Ellie: People don’t tend to see it as a casual hobby. We have a couple of stagehands that are first years that haven’t done this kind of thing before, two of the tech crew are freshers who have been trained for this.
Ed: Three out of five of our cast members are freshers and they’re really good, They’re the sort of people that should propagate the whole theatre scene here.
Martina for The Saint: What has been the funniest thing that has happened throughout the entire process?
Ed: I must say I don’t laugh very easily but there have been some moments when some of my actors have come up with some of their own lines…the thing is you re-rehearse these things and then you expect them not to be funny anymore and then the person will deliver the line and I just won’t be able to control it.
Ellie: There will also surely be a lot of things that will be funny in hindsight but that at the time were normal or stressful. We’ll definitely look back and think, I can’t believe that happened!
Martina for The Saint: How do you feel about leaving the play? Relieved, or are you going to miss it?
Ellie: I think both. It’s weird though because we have, what, 6 days left? I can’t really imagine it ending because it’s been so much all day every day.
Ed: It’s long days but they’re so, so rewarding. And there are moments when you just need to sit down and ask:” Do you want to go for a beer?”, but frankly, having said all that, I’m going to miss it big time. I don’t mind admitting that. I’m going to be sad when whole thing is over, it’s really been a riot.
Martina for The Saint: Is there something you want people who haven’t been in on the whole process to know?
Ed: I don’t really think so, it’s in the more than capable hands of our actors to tell the rest of the story.
Ellie: I think everyone will get it by watching it.
Martina for The Saint: Also, if you’re so passionate and excited about something, it just can’t be bad.
Ed: Yes, I’ve been operating on a whole new level of excitement. I’ve often laid down in bed with a smile on my face and thought: ”I can’t wait for rehearsals tomorrow”, I genuinely mean that.
Ellie: I’ll miss it, I’ll definitely miss it; it’s been great fun, great fun.
Martina for The Saint: If you had to describe the play using 5 words?
Ed: Mad-cap, adventure story, swash-buckling comedy. Done.
Martina for The Saint: Finally, if this play were a song, what would it be?
Ellie: Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen: innovative, creative and may change the theatrical landscape in a big way.
Ed: That or Don’t Look Back in Anger by Oasis.
Buy your tickets for ‘The 39 Steps’ on the Byre website (https://byretheatre.com/events/mermaids-the-39-steps/) and hurry to see the play this Tuesday 12th and Wednesday 13th at 19:30. Everyone involved in this production “stepped up” their game, it’s only fair you “stepped up” yours.