Jessica Hope reviews Antony Lampard’s stage adaption of The Lady Vanishes, on at Theatre Royal Bath until 2 February
Based on Ethel Line White’s 1936 novel The Wheel Spins, The Lady Vanishes continues to be one of ‘Master of Suspense’ Alfred Hitchcock’s most loved British films. Starring Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave, when it first hit the big screen in 1938 it quickly became the most successful British film release to date – and still ranks highly in audiences’ favourite films of all time, more than 80 years after its release.
Still proving popular among theatre goers today, The Classic Thriller Theatre Company is currently touring the UK with Antony Lampard’s stage adaption of this famous Hitchcock thriller until July.
The plot follows young socialite Iris Henderson as she travels through Nazi-controlled Europe back to Britain, in order to return home in time to get married. After getting a good thumping on the head at the train station, Iris is helped onto the train by the mild-mannered governess Miss Froy. After falling asleep in her train compartment, Iris is shocked to find that Miss Froy has not only disappeared, but that the other travellers repute that they have not even seen the woman in question in the first place.
With her suspicions heightened, and unsure as to whether someone is playing a horrible joke on her, Iris searches the train with the help of fellow passenger and engineer Max – and they quickly discover that Miss Froy’s disappearance might be more complicated than initially thought…
Emmy award-winning Juliet Mills is engaging and charismatic as the sweet-natured Miss Froy, while Lorna Fitzgerald is confident as the concerned Iris. Matt Barber is charming as Max – who slowly begins to believe Iris’ fears and becomes her only confidante – and adds moments of great comedic timing in his delivery. Robert Duncan and Ben Nealon are excellent as the amusing cricket-obsessed double act Charters and Caldicott (said characters proved such a popular partnership depicted by Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford in the 1938 film that they reprised their characters in further films in the 1940s), while Maxwell Caulfield has an air of mystery, yet believability, about him as Dr Hartz.
The plot’s twists and turns are heightened by Dan Samson’s effective thriller-style sound design, with the eerie use of dramatic music adding to the increasing tension. As the discoveries and accusations develop, the scene changes between the train compartments to the dining cart are swift, culminating in an almighty, dramatic standoff.
Gripping, intriguing and quick-witted, this stage adaption of The Lady Vanishes duly reflects why audiences’ love affair with this thriller continues to this day.
Main image: Juliet Mills as Ms Froy, Joe Reisig as Official, Mark Carlisle as Signor Doppo and Lorna Fitzgerald as Iris in The Lady Vanishes. Credit: Paul Coltas