Thirty-nine steps to an unlikely theatrical triumph

Play that began life in draughty Yorkshire church halls with four actors, a stuffed dog and a very large sheet, takes Broadway by storm

New York is a long way from North Yorkshire, and Broadway a big step from Victoria Street in the town of Richmond, deep in the Yorkshire Dales.

Yet tonight both places will be holding their breath as Whoopi Goldberg takes the stage of the Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan to host the most prestigious awards in American theatre: the Tonys.

Nominated for Best Play, and a further five Tonys, is a work that began life funded by a £1,000 Yorkshire Arts Grant in 1995 and premiered in front of 90 people at the Georgian Theatre in Richmond, before embarking on a tour of village halls across the north of England.

Now 13 years later, The 39 Steps, an adaptation of the John Buchan novel, originally performed with just stepladders, planks and a big sheet, has swept through the West End, won a host of awards, including an Olivier, and taken New York by storm. The New York Post described it as the "most entertaining show on Broadway".

To win a Tony would crown a remarkable journey. Certainly, it is not what writers Nobby Dimon and Simon Corble expected when they began work on the project. "It is quite extraordinary," said Dimon, 55, in between rehearsals for The Prisoner of Zenda, his next production for North Country Theatre, the small group he founded to put on The 39 Steps. "It's just an incredible tale really, to think that something wowed them in village halls 10 years ago is now having great success in New York.

"Village halls are a seedbed of creativity," he added. "It's fantastic to see this flowering, but I'm happy in the seedbed."

A Production's progress: from Richmond to the Big Apple

Step 1. 1995: North Country Theatre Company founded by Nobby Dimon to tour small rural venues such as village halls and schools in North Yorkshire, Durham and the Border Country.

2. Dimon starts adapting John Buchan's 1915 novel 'The 39 Steps'.

3. Simon Corble hears of the project and offers to work for a share of future royalties – in effect, for free.

4. The two discuss scenarios and their favourite bits of the book and film versions on the phone.

5. Three weeks of brainstorming, improvising, writing and rehearsing with actors.

6. 2 May 1996: final coat of paint applied to set consisting mainly of stepladders, planks and sheets.

7. 3 May 1996: play makes its debut before 90 people at the Georgian Theatre Royal in Richmond. It uses four actors and a stuffed dog.

8. Play embarks on a short tour of village halls and schools

9. 25 May: the tour reaches Rosedale Abbey School Hall.

10. The tour ends at the Elite Cinema, Leyburn, as part of the Swaledale Festival.

11. Spring 1997: North Country Theatre mounts a second small-scale tour. The play is seen by someone from Perth Repertory Theatre, Scotland.

12. December 1997: Corble mounts a third tour with his own Manchester-based company.

13. Glowing review in 'The Manchester Evening News' during a three-week run at the Friends Meeting House.

14. The play is nominated for a 'Manchester Evening News' theatre award for Best of Fringe.

15. Perth Repertory produces the play.

16. It is seen by a London producer, Charles Vance.

17. January 1998: Corble takes his show to the London Fringe theatre, the Tabard.

18. Tabard wants to take it to the West End.

19. But Charles Vance also wants to buy the rights.

20. The playwrights go with Vance.

21. Agent appointed to negotiate with John Buchan's estate after his work comes back into copyright following a change in the law.

22. Show begins tour of repertory theatres throughout Great Britain under guidance of Vance.

23. Auberon Waugh sees it, and writes: "I have never known such happiness from a theatrical production."

24. It wins a Whatsonstage Theatre Goers' Award.

25. American producers fly over to see the show in Bury St Edmunds.

26. They fly home unimpressed.

27. 2002: producer Edward Snape buys the rights to the script.

28. It is suggested that Patrick Barlow, co-founder of the National Theatre of Brent, renowned for its successful yet small-scale productions – is invited to look at the script and take the role of Hannay.

29. 2002-04: two years of negotiations ensue with Ambassador's Theatre, Rank, who own the rights to the film, John Buchan's estate and the writers all trying to hammer out a deal.

30. 2004: Patrick Barlow rewrites the script, keeping the staging, scenes and low-scale feel, but basing it much more on the film.

31. Play is success at Yorkshire Playhouse and national tour.

32. Transfers to Tricycle Theatre in north London, where it is a hit.

33. Transfers to the Criterion.

34. 2007: Surprise winner of Olivier Award for Best New Comedy

35. Opens at Huntington Theatre in Boston, US.

36. Opens to rave reviews on Broadway.

37. April 2008: wins two prestigious Drama Desk Awards in New York.

38. Becomes a hit in Israel, South Africa, Finland, Greece, Italy, Germany and the Czech Republic, Istanbul, Korea, Australia (it opens in Spain later this year).

Step 39. Nominated for six Tony Awards, including best play.

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
Crime watch: Cara Delevingne and Daniel Brühl in ‘The Face of an Angel’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
music Malik left the Asian leg of the band's world tour after being signed off with stress last week
News
Author J.K. Rowling attends photocall ahead of her reading from 'The Casual Vacancy' at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on September 27, 2012 in London, England.
peopleNot the first time the author has defended Dumbledore's sexuality
News
‘The Late Late Show’ presenter James Corden is joined by Mila Kunis and Tom Hanks for his first night as host
news
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss