THE NORTHCOTT THEATRE – TILL 2 NOVEMBER 2019 AND TOUR
THE LADY VANISHES
RUNNING TIME – 2 HOURS – 1 INTERVAL
Northcott Box Office – 01392 726363
REVIEW – CORMAC RICHARDS – 28 OCTOBER 2019
It didn’t take Alfred Hitchcock long to realise the potential of Ethel Lina White’s novel ‘The Wheel Spins’ – within two years of its publication in 1938 he had made a film out of it. Retitled ‘The Lady Vanishes’ it became one of the director’s most loved early films. With a script from the masterly duo, Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder, it tells of how an elderly lady apparently disappears on a train much to the bemusement of a young woman who, with the help of another passenger seeks her out and uncovers a plot thick with deception, lies and fabrication in pre-War Europe.
Gilliat and Launder had a flair for comedy and with a thriller as their source material they combined the two genres beautifully – creating some new characters in the process and jettisoning others. The result is a well-crafted and very amusing screenplay. How unusual it is, therefore, to have a stage play crafted from a screenplay, rather than an original novel – that said, a recent adaptation of the book is in existence. Antony Lampard has been very respectful to the original and the result is a highly entertaining and very funny play.
The Classic Thriller Theatre Company was borne out of the Agatha Christie Theatre Company and have been touring thrillers around the country for well over ten years – the appetite for the thriller is not lost and definitely not for the old-fashioned variety. The play has a strong narrative – courtesy of the original film – and although the number of characters is pared down, there is still plenty going on. A vast station set, adorned with swastikas, transforms easily into the train on which most of the action takes place – it is a very good set from Morgan Large, and with the atmospheric lighting designs of Charlie Morgan Jones and the excellent use of sound effects and music underscoring throughout (including a hefty dose of Wagner’s Tannhauser in the interval) from Dan Samson it is difficult not to be sucked in to a plot which is certainly not watertight, but is rather irresistible.
Gwen Taylor heads the cast in the very small, but pivotal role as Miss Froy – the elderly governess who is rather more than she appears – slightly dotty without being silly. The central character of Iris, the rather spoilt, rather annoying young woman whose assertion that Miss Froy is on the train is denied by almost everyone else, is played by Scarlett Archer whose voice cuts straight through you at times. Her ally, Max, a happy-go-lucky sort is wonderfully played by Nicholas Audsley, with an ease of delivery and movement which is extremely endearing. Andrew Lancel is less successful as the mysterious Dr Hartz – a rather wooden performance lacking any ounce of the sinister or menace. Rosie Thomson and Mark Wynter are the entertaining and bickering couple on an illicit trip through Europe – it doesn’t end happily. The plum roles of Charters and Caldicott were invented for the film and were not in the original novel. Originated by those splendid actors Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne (and well revived by Arthur Lowe and Ian Carmichael in the 1978 film remake), the cricket-obsessed Englishmen are offered the best lines, the funniest lines and, by accident, some of the most topical lines. Denis Lill and Ben Nealon have an absolute riot in the roles – quite honestly, anything with Denis Lill in is worth the admission fee alone – they are utterly delightful and very funny.
The cast work well throughout some of the preposterousness. Yes, the fights could have been a little more convincing and some of the accents were a tad dodgy, but the overall effect was like being seated on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon in the warm, with a cup of tea and a packet of biscuits watching a good old black and white film. Director Roy Marsden has the audience in mind throughout and keeps the action going, reaching a peak with an effective gun battle.
The Lady Vanishes may not break new ground – though the use of the original screenplay is not common – and it isn’t trying to be anything that it isn’t; but, what it is, is good, unpretentious, theatrical escapist entertainment. I rather loved it.
MISS FROY – GWEN TAYLOR
DR HARTZ – ANDREW LANCEL
IRIS – SCARLETT ARCHER
MAX – NICHOLAS AUDSLEY
CHARTERS – DENIS LILL
ERIC – MARK WYNTER
CALDICOTT – BEN NEALON
MARGARET – ROSIE THOMSON
SIGNOR DOPPO – MARTIN CARROLL
OFFICIAL – JOE REISIG
STEWARDESS – NATALIE LAW
PORTER – GEORGE HAINES-TURNER
BEGGAR – KIRSTY KING
ADAPTATION BY – ANTONY LAMPARD
DIRECTOR – ROY MARSDEN
DESIGNER – MORGAN LARGE
LIGHTING DESIGN – CHARLUE MORGAN JONES
SOUND DESIGN – DAN SAMSON
PHOTO CREDIT – PAUL COLTAS