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The Lady Vanishes at Richmond Theatre | Review

[L-R] Matt Barber (Max), Lorna Fitzgerald (Iris) and Mark Carlisle (Signor Doppo) - The Lady Vanishes - UK Tour - Photograph by Paul Colton
[L-R] Matt Barber (Max), Lorna Fitzgerald (Iris) and Mark Carlisle (Signor Doppo) – The Lady Vanishes – UK Tour – Photograph by Paul Colton
It all started so well. As the curtain rose in Frank Matcham’s magnificent theatre on Richmond Green, the backcloth representing a vast Viennese railway station just before the second world war with its deep perspective and realistic representation of train steam filled your vision. Combined with some evocative cinematic music and the superbly choreographed comings and goings of the thirteen strong cast dressed as passengers, porters, stationmasters and Nazi officers, it looked like we were in for a superb night at the theatre. Then unfortunately after about five minutes of the opening scene with our appetites whetted, as my companion said at the interval, “They started to speak”!

The Lady Vanishes started life as a 1938 Alfred Hitchcock film written by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Lauder (based on a 1936 novel “The Wheel Spins” by Ethel Lina White) and after over eighty years, it’s really showing its age. Originally set in the fictional country of Bandrika, in this touring production from Bill Kenwright’s The Classic Thriller Theatre Company, Antony Lampard’s adaptation has moved it to a train travelling from Vienna to Zurich just before the outbreak of the second world war with Nazi’s rather than soldiers from a made-up country. This makes it much more real and at the beginning when Nazi flags and insignia drop from the roof of the station, fairly chilling but in reality, that was the only real drama of the evening.

And that lack of any drama was one of the main problems with this production. The actors just didn’t seem to know how to play it – was it a serious drama or was it a comedy without too many laughs? At times it boarded on the farcical, but it wasn’t broad enough to be a proper farce – maybe it should have been. The biggest laugh of the evening came during a fight scene which was one of the poorest I’ve ever seen in the theatre and instead of drawing gasps from the audience, it drew guffaws as punches missed their target by miles and the characters grappled unconvincingly on the floor.

I never got the chance to see Provincial Rep, but this was how I imagined it to be. Creaky plywood sets, ordinary acting, phony foreign accents and a plot so full of holes, you could drive a train through it. For example, the people on board the train barricade just one end of it to stop the soldiers coming on board so why didn’t they just climb on board at the other end? There was also a superfluous sub-plot regarding an important lawyer traveling in secret with his mistress. It was in the original film but really wouldn’t have been missed here if they’d removed it.

There was also a lot of time spent by the passengers looking out of imaginary train windows describing what was happening on the platform which the audience, of course, couldn’t see, and which just reinforced the clunky old-fashioned staginess of this dinosaur of a play.

The large cast do their best but the main attraction, Juliet Mills is hardly on stage and if you went to especially to see her, then you’d be very disappointed. The rest of the cast including her husband Maxwell Caulfield and Lorna Fitzgerald (best known as Abi Branning in “Eastenders”) work hard but I’m afraid Roy Marden’s direction leaves them seemingly not knowing how broad to play their roles.

So, we left the theatre very disappointed with what we’d seen and headed off to face our own transport problems as there had been an incident at Twickenham and the trains were delayed – luckily when ours did come, the lady I was with didn’t vanish!

2 gold stars

Review by Alan Fitter

When Socialite Iris’ unexpected travelling companion suddenly disappears, Iris is perplexed to find that all the other passengers deny ever having seen her. But with the help of musician Max, she turns detective, and together they try to solve the mystery of why the lady vanished…

Building on the phenomenal decade-long success of The Agatha Christie Theatre Company, The Classic Thriller Theatre Company presents a quick-witted and devilishly fun thriller, based on the 1939 Hitchcock classic, ranked as one of the best British films of all time.

Husband and wife Juliet Mills and Maxwell Caulfield lead the star cast in the latest installment of the Classic Thriller Theatre Company.

The cast also features Lorna Fitzgerald, fresh from her shock departure from the role of Abi Branning in BBC’s EastEnders, Matt Barber, Atticus Aldridge in Downtown Abbey and Robert Duncan, Drop The Dead Donkey.

The Lady Vanishes On Tour

Richmond Theatre
12th-16th March 2019

Regent Theatre, Stoke-On-Trent
8th-13th April 2019

Theatre Royal, Glasgow
1st-6th July 2019

Theatre Royal, Brighton
4th-9th November 2019

Princess Theatre Torquay
18th-23rd November 2019

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