Photo: Paul Coltas
Bill Kenwright’s touring ‘Classic Thriller Theatre Company’ continues where the producer’s ‘Agatha Christie Theatre Company’ left off bringing popular thrillers and whodunnits to the masses. This week, at Richmond Theatre, Alfred Hitchcock’s famous 1938 film, The Lady Vanishes, has been adapted for the stage by Antony Lampard and stars Juliet Mills, Max Caulfield and Lorna Fitzgerald… famous for playing EastEnders’ troubled youngster Abi Branning.
Lampard has used the film’s timeframe to relocate the relevance of the plot to the Third Reich where the shadow of the SS is ever-present on a pre-World War II train journey from Austria to Switzerland. However, where Hitchcock’s iconic film continuously sits between 30 – 40 in numerous top-100 films-of-all-time lists – and taking its prolific director to Hollywood in the process – the current stage version, directed by Roy Marsdan, may keep the ‘daytime television’ audience entertained for a couple of hours but, at the same time, doesn’t really break any new ground.
Morgan Large’s clever design sets the scene nicely at an Austrian mainline railway station, where we meet our cast of passengers. Ex-EastEnder, Lorna Fitzgerald is very good value at the centre of the mystery as young Iris, and presumably is relishing the opportunity to play a contrasting role to her depressing Albert Square persona. Her 1930s clipped English accent impresses as does her constant energy as Iris refuses to lie down and accept the impossible.
The impossible being the all-important, mid-journey disappearance (or ‘vanishing’) of her impromptu travelling companion on the way to Zurich, the elderly Miss Froy (Juliet Mills). One minute she’s in her seat, as Iris pops off into the neighbouring carriage, and when Iris returns she has vanished. It’s only when the rest of the passengers collectively deny any acknowledgement of Miss Froy ever having been onboard, that Iris sets out to solve this mysterious disappearance. It may be a classic plot, but to delve any deeper than that would spoil many a theatre outing.
The set’s slick transformation from station to train is simple but ingenious, and Lampard has deftly contained the entire timeline within the confines of either the station platform or on the actual train itself. However, without the luxury of the film’s multiple locations, the odd scene – especially in the latter half of act II – does feel a little contrived.
That said, Richmond’s faithful all seem happy enough, although on press night it didn’t look like the casting of Fitzgerald has succeeded in bringing many younger fans to the theatre, presumably as hoped. The trouble is, these classic films almost stand alone, timeless, within the eras in which they were made, and sometimes it’s an impossible task to better them. Plus, these days the plots of Silent Witness and Broadchurch - for example - are specifically tailored for today’s modern audiences, making these ‘classic’ stage adaptations look a little dated – through no fault of their own. Not that Mr Kenwright will be complaining of course.
The Lady Vanishes plays at Richmond Theatre until Saturday, 16th March before continuing its tour.
More at: www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-lady-vanishes/richmond-theatre
Photo: Paul Coltas