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
0131 529 6000
25 Feb – 2 Mar
0151 666 0000
4 – 9 Mar
01253 290 190
11 – 16 Mar
0844 871 7651
19 – 23 Mar
25 – 30 Mar
020 3285 6000
1 – 6 Apr
01246 345 222
8 – 13 Apr
0844 871 7649
15 – 20 Apr
23 – 27 Apr
3 – 8 June
01302 303 959
10 – 15 June
17 – 22 June
24 – 29 June
His Majesty’s Theatre
1 – 6 July
0844 871 7648
8 – 13 July
01270 368 242
16 – 20 July
029 2087 8889
22 – 27 July
0844 848 2700