Though this new touring production from Bill Kenwright’s Classic Thriller Theatre company is unapologetically old-fashioned, it’s also stylishly staged and winningly performed.
In adapting the 1938 Hitchcock-directed film The Lady Vanishes for the stage, Antony Lampard has preserved the style and tone of his source material. The plot centres on young, well-to-do Iris (Lorna Fitzgerald, familiar to TV viewers as EastEnders’ Abi Branning), whose travelling companion, Miss Froy (an elegant Juliet Mills), mysteriously disappears on a train across Europe. Fitzgerald is convincing in her portrayal of Iris’ concern and indignation, drawing the audience into her quest to uncover the truth.
Assisting Iris in her detective work is the hapless Max (an enjoyable performance from Matt Barber), whose bumbling attempts at witty repartee start out as cruel jibes. The development of Iris and Max’s relationship is nicely handled, while cricket-mad duo Charters (Robert Duncan) and Caldicott (Ben Nealon) work hard to provide light comic relief. Maxwell Caulfield gives a suitably restrained performance as the aloof Dr Hartz.
The design effectively captures the feel of a bygone era. Morgan Large’s set cleverly functions as both the exterior and interior of a train, making scene changes speedy and unobtrusive. Sliding doors mask secrets contained within compartments and later allow truths to be dramatically revealed. A sense of hidden dangers is enhanced by the shadows cast by Charlie Morgan Jones’ lighting design.
Having such a large cast makes Roy Marsden’s production feel unwieldy at times, though the pacing improves as the plot progresses. A number of well-choreographed fight scenes (by Richard Leggett) provide welcome bursts of intrigue and activity as the story reaches its exhilarating denouement.