THE LADY VANISHES
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Tuesday 24th September, 2019
Based on the Alfred Hitchcock film of 1938, this brand-new production from the Classic Thriller Theatre Company, begins in Austria during the Nazi occupation. Imagine, if you can, a world in which fascism is on the rise… Oh, wait. The action begins with a train being delayed – Imagine if you can, the trains not running on time – Oh, never mind! These modern parallels aside, this is an entertaining period piece, old-fashioned in both form and content.
Gwen Taylor leads the cast as the titular disappearing woman, the tweedy Miss Froy. It’s not until she does her disappearing act, that the play picks up momentum. Up until then, it’s been character after character charging around, a little too much exposition, perhaps. Taylor’s Froy is spot on for dotty old English biddy, harmless and friendly; she comes to the aid of young Iris, who is, rather contrivedly, bashed on the head at the station. Scarlett Archer does all the right things as the plucky damsel, distressed over the old biddy’s disappearance, while everyone around her denies Miss Froy even existed. It’s an intriguing mystery and keeps us interested. Director Roy Marsden does a bang-up job of bringing matters to a head by the end of the first act, with Iris’s desperation rising to a crescendo amid the consternation of everyone else.
The rest of the company includes some stalwarts of this kind of thing: the mighty Denis Lill is paired up with Ben Nealon as a pair of cricket-obsessed duffers who provide much of the show’s comedic moments; Mark Wynter combines silver foxiness with arrogance as an adulterous barrister, while Rosie Thomson is suitably despairing as his embittered mistress. There is a cold, chilling turn from Andrew Lancel as dodgy Doctor Hartz, while Joe Reisig makes for an imposing presence as a Nazi official striding around as if he owns the train. Providing support for Iris is the funny, handsome and charming Max (played by the funny, handsome and charming Nicholas Audley).
The transmutable set, designed by Morgan Large, serves as both station and train, including compartments, is impressive and, coupled with lighting effects from Charlie Morgan Jones, sound effects by Dan Samson, and subtle bobbing on the spot by the cast, the sensation of being on a train is superbly evoked. Antony Lampard’s adaptation of the screenplay has a bit too much of the characters describing what they can see happening through the windows of the train but, that aside, the story builds to a climactic and thrilling gunfight and reaches a pleasingly romantic resolution.
Solid and dependable fare, the play delivers what you expect, with high quality production values and a skilled and effective cast. Reliably gripping, this is an enjoyable night at the theatre.