‘Isn’t so much old fashioned as timeless’: THE LADY VANISHES – Touring ★★★★

In Opinion, Plays, Regional theatre, Reviews, Scotland, Touring by Thom DibdinLeave a Comment

Touring – reviewed at the King’s Theatre
Guest reviewer: Martin Gray

The Lady Vanishes, but audiences won’t as a stage version of Alfred Hitchcock’s beloved thriller comes to the King’s as part of its UK tour.

It’s 1938 and a colourful batch of characters waits to join a train bound for Austria. There’s the lawyer Todhunter and ‘Mrs Todhunter’, his mistress; English pals Charters and Caldicott; Max, an engineer with a surprising fondness for European folk dancing; playgirl Iris returning to England to be married; and Miss Froy, a harmless old governess…

While everything seems pretty jolly – station attendants wearing swastika armbands dance with Iris and her pal Blanche – a sinister figure stalks the platform in full Nazi regalia. As they’re about to board the train, Iris is bashed on the head by a clumsy porter as she tries to pass Miss Froy the bag she’s been looking for.

Miss Froy helps her onboard and, after Iris recovers somewhat, they get to know one another in the dining carriage. Back in their compartment, shared with the Nazi officer and an Italian stage magician, the still woozy Iris has a nap at Miss Froy’s suggestion, but when she wakes up… the lady has vanished!

Can Iris, with the help of the frightfully annoying Max, prove she isn’t going mad and save Miss Froy from whatever nefarious scheme she’s fallen prey to?

The traditional set-up is presented with great style in this Classic Thriller Theatre Company production. From the minute the stage lights go up on Morgan Large’s glorious railway station set, the backdrop taking us deep into the bowels of the building, it’s obvious we’re in safe hands.

Director Roy Marsden marshals his cast with the insight of the veteran actor he is, ensuring Antony Lampard’s adaptation of the screenplay by Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat has real pace.

The movie moments that have been shelved aren’t missed while the challenges of representing business that can’t really be done in a fixed set stage version – the railway station converts into the train and that’s it for the duration, with a bit of scene shifting quickly taking us from compartments to dining car and back again – merely bring fun challenges.

So while we don’t see some of the climactic action, and there’s a fair bit of ‘look, out there on the platform’, the tight ensemble pulls it all off with aplomb.

Speaking of the cast, it’s a real treat to have husband and wife Maxwell Caulfield and Juliet Mills together in this show, lending real star power to proceedings. While they don’t share a scene, they’re there, heading the cast without hogging the stage.

She is Miss Froy, he is the charming brain surgeon Dr Hartz, enlisted by Iris and Max to help solve the mystery. Mills turns in a nicely judged performance, while Caulfield brings suitable gravitas – and a decent Austrian accent – to his character.

As cricket bores Charters and Caldicott, Robert Duncan and Ben Nealon score at least a century with their amiable double act, while Elizabeth Payne and Philip Lowrie are enjoyably sparky as Margaret and her obnoxious married lover Todhunter.

Mark Carlisle is good value as the menacing magician, Signor Doppo while Joe Reisig is suitable imperious as the strutting Nazi. Natalie Law does treble duty, including a fun turn as a strangely sexy nun, while James Bose and Cara Ballingall round out the ensemble.

Front and centre, though, are Lorna Fitzgerald and Matt Barber as Iris and Max, oil and water forced to mix and destined to fall in love as they solve the mystery. The pair have real chemistry and I’d love to see someone write a sequel play for the characters (stranger things have happened – Charters and Caldicott were revived for a TV series in the Eighties).

With lines like ‘Well, they can’t do anything to us, we’re British citizens’, I don’t doubt someone will find a Brexit subtext here. Forget it. This is a good old-fashioned Boy’s (and Girl’s!) Own adventure yarn brought to the stage with real elan. There’s intrigue, adventure, wit and, courtesy of dialect coach Helen Ashton, some frightfully good clipped accents of various stripes.

By the end of the evening audience members were oohing at the twists and aahing at the romance of a delightful romp that isn’t so much old fashioned as timeless. As train tickets go, this one is well worth the money.

Running time: Two hours (including one break in the journey)
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ.
Monday 18-Saturday 23 February 2019
Daily at 7.30 pm; Matinees Wed & Sat 2.30 pm
Tickets and details: Book online here.

The Lady Vanishes on tour 2019:

18 – 23 Feb
Edinburgh
Kings
0131 529 6000
Book online

25 Feb – 2 Mar
New Brighton
Floral Pavilion
0151 666 0000
Book online

4 – 9 Mar
Blackpool
Grand
01253 290 190
Book online

11 – 16 Mar
Richmond
Theatre
0844 871 7651
Book online

19 – 23 Mar
Malvern
Festival Theatre
01684 892277
Book online

25 – 30 Mar
Bromley
Churchill Theatre
020 3285 6000
Book online

1 – 6 Apr
Chesterfield
Pomegranate Theatre
01246 345 222
Book online

8 – 13 Apr
Stoke
Regent Theatre
0844 871 7649
Book online

15 – 20 Apr
Inverness
Eden Court
01463 234234
Book online

23 – 27 Apr
Barnstaple
Queen’s Theatre
01271 316063
Book online

3 – 8 June
Doncaster
Cast Theatre
01302 303 959
Book online

10 – 15 June
Llandudno
Venue Cymru
01492 872000
Book online

17 – 22 June
Lichfield
Garrick Theatre
01543 412121
Book online

24 – 29 June
Aberdeen
His Majesty’s Theatre
01224 641122
Book online

1 – 6 July
Glasgow
King’s Theatre
0844 871 7648
Book online

8 – 13 July
Crewe
Lyceum Theatre
01270 368 242
Book online

16 – 20 July
Cardiff
New Theatre
029 2087 8889
Book online

22 – 27 July
Leeds
Grand Theatre
0844 848 2700
Book online

ENDS

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Thom Dibdin
Thom Dibdin has been reviewing and writing about theatre in Scotland since the last millennium. He is currently Scotland Correspondent for The Stage newspaper. In 2010, he founded AllEdinburghTheatre.com. The city's only dedicated theatre website, it covers all Edinburgh theatre year-round - and all theatre made in Edinburgh during EdFringe. Thom is passionate about quality in theatre criticism and is a member of the Critics' Awards for Theatre in Scotland. He tweets from @AllEdinTheatre and, personally, from @ThomDibdin.
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Thom Dibdin on FacebookThom Dibdin on RssThom Dibdin on Twitter
Thom Dibdin
Thom Dibdin has been reviewing and writing about theatre in Scotland since the last millennium. He is currently Scotland Correspondent for The Stage newspaper. In 2010, he founded AllEdinburghTheatre.com. The city's only dedicated theatre website, it covers all Edinburgh theatre year-round - and all theatre made in Edinburgh during EdFringe. Thom is passionate about quality in theatre criticism and is a member of the Critics' Awards for Theatre in Scotland. He tweets from @AllEdinTheatre and, personally, from @ThomDibdin.

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