The Lady Vanishes - Theatr Clwyd

The Lady Vanishes is one of Hitchcock’s greatest movies; so, would a screen to stage adaption retain the magic of the various adaptations, or would it be a bridge too far bearing in mind nearly all the action takes place on a train?

The hush of the auditorium is broken by the fanfare-like strains of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries and this sets the tone for the rest of the production. As the curtain rises, we are transported back to Nazi Germany, soldiers and passengers throng a dreary railway station, swastika flags hanging down towards piles of suitcases. A stern Nazi officer barks in German at the confused and frustrated passengers who are waiting for their train to Zurich which has been delayed by an avalanche.

On the platform we are introduced to the characters of the play, and Juliet Mills steals these first few moments as the lady in tweed, Miss Froy. Even though she is only sitting, calmly reading her newspaper and eating a sandwich, whilst the rest of the passengers get more and more irate by their delayed journey, you can’t help but be transfixed by her presence.

The screenplay was originally adapted from Ethel Lina White’s novel, The Wheel Spins, but Hitchcock radically revamped the tale into the well-loved story we now know, creating two of cinema’s most loved comic duo’s, Charters and Caldecott, the two English gentlemen, so ensconced in their love of cricket, that they are blissfully unaware of most of the events happening around them. Both Robert Duncan and Ben Nealon add an air of daft fun as they charm their way through the play with witty cricket banter and dismay of the interruptions that may cause them to miss the final day of the test match at Old Trafford.

As the train is set to depart, Iris, receives a knock on the head. As she makes her way to her train compartment, she is looked after by the mysterious Miss Froy.

The sides of the station cleverly fold in on themselves to form two train carriages of Morgan Large’s imaginative set. This is where the majority of the action will take place, however, when the doors of the carriages are closed, they create the windows of the dining car, whilst tables and chairs are placed in situ for some of the most important scenes in the play.

As drunk by a million Mexicans!

Miss Froy suggests that Iris takes tea in the dining car with her. Miss Froy ensures she has a cup of her favourite Merriman’s Herbal Tea, as drunk by a million Mexicans, and she pulls a packet from her bag to hand to the steward. Iris has difficulty hearing Miss Froy’s name as she introduces herself, so she writes it in the steam on the train window. These seemingly innocuous acts add to the twists and turns as the journey progresses. Following a nap, Iris awakes to find Miss Froy has disappeared on the moving train…but no-one else aboard the train can remember ever seeing the old school governess on board.

Of course, railways have been synonymous with romance and seduction (think Brief Encounter or a trip on the Orient Express) so of course, Iris must bump into someone she can share an intimate moment with! Max, a musicologist, travelling around the Balkans collecting folk songs could be her ideal beau, however, Iris is traveling to the UK to marry an aristocrat so will not entertain the idea. Instead the couple bicker and argue in a humoristic British fashion as Iris (Lorna Fitzgerald who EastEnders fans will know as Abi Branning) tries to convince Max that she has not gone mad…Miss Froy really did exist.

Dr Hartz (Maxwell Caulfied formerly of Dynasty fame) blames Iris’s confusion on the blow she sustained to her head, but Max, played by Matt Barber, finds evidence to suggest that Iris is not insane and together they try to find out what really happened to Miss Froy.

A first class thriller!

The first half of this production is as fast paced as the train thundering down the tracks in this remarkable production, directed by Roy Marsden, who many will be familiar with in his role as Adam Dalgliesh in the ITV series by P D James. The second half becomes even more thrilling, and this is where I started to regret sitting on the front row, a hairs breadth from the stage!

The sword fight that went on in the luggage compartment had me sitting back in my seat for fear that I might lose an ear, but I needn’t worry, the choreography led to a stunning fight scene in which you waited to draw breath. As the thriller bowled along, the last fifteen minutes become physically charged with a tense shoot out and me jumping out of my skin every time a gun-shot rang out (and there were many!)
The actors bring together a play full of warmth, energy, tension and humour which keeps you gripped to your seats throughout.

It’s a first-class thriller and one you should try to catch as it rumbles into town!

Remaining 2019 UK Tour venues

Edinburgh Kings Theatre, 18 – 23 February
New Brighton Floral Pavilion Theatre, 25 February – 2 March
Blackpool Grand Theatre, 4 – 9 March
Richmond Theatre, 11 – 16 March
Malvern Festival Theatre, 19 – 23 March
Bromley Churchill Theatre, 25 – 30 March
Chesterfield Pomegranate Theatre, 1 – 6 April
Stoke Regent Theatre, 8 – 13 April
Inverness Eden Court Theatre, 15-20 April
Barnstaple Queen’s Theatre, 23 – 27 April
Doncaster Cast Theatre, 3 – 8 June
Llandudno Venue Cymru, 10 – 15 June
Lichfield Garrick Theatre, 17 – 22 June
Aberdeen His Majesty’s Theatre, 24 – 29 June
Glasgow Theatre Royal, 1 – 6 July
Crewe Lyceum Theatre, 8 – 13 July
Cardiff New Theatre, 15 – 20 July
Leeds Grand Theatre, 22- 27 July.