Matthew Lunn reviews The Lady Vanishes at Richmond Theatre where it is playing as pasrt of its UK Tour
The Lady Vanishes
11th March 2019
UK Tour Schedule
One problem with adapting a classic is finding ways to surprise your audience. Not only will some of them be familiar with the plot, but elements of your storytelling risk feeling dated, or predictable. Whilst The Lady Vanishes does an admirable job of conjuring a immersive pre-war aesthetic, the narrative remains firmly on rails for the most part, save a joyfully chaotic final act.
Based on Hitchcock’s 1938 classic, the play takes place on a train travelling from Vienna to Zurich, chock full of European stereotypes. Elderly British governess, Miss Froy (Juliet Mills), befriends Iris (Lorna Fitzgerald), a carefree young lady travelling to London ahead of her wedding. They meet a methodical Austrian doctor (Maxwell Caulfield), two cricket obsessed toffs (Robert Duncan and Ben Nealon), a humourless German soldier (Joe Reisig) and a demonstrative Italian magician. Then, Miss Froy disappears, and Iris is frantic. Yet all deny that she was on the train at all. Iris is left to establish exactly what’s going on, with the help of Max (Matt Barber), a young man whom she outwardly detests.
The play is a comfortable watch, and occasionally excellent. Nealon and Duncan bring great warmth to their double act, even as their jokes fall flatter than the MCG. Philip Lowrie’s Eric – a diffident man inexplicably holidaying with his mistress – offers a striking picture of human frailty, whilst Mills ensures the titular Lady is both twinkly and suspicious. There is also a gentle satisfaction in watching the mystery being unravelled, with Fitzgerald and Barber developing a companionable rapport as the play progresses. Yet it frequently lacks the Hitchcockian edge – the two hour running time feels oddly baggy, with too many suspenseless conversations and unexplained motives.
For all that is pedestrian about the play, it concludes with a quite spectacular energy. Beautifully choreographed and gloriously farcical, the final act is brilliant fun – more than making up for the unsatisfactory explanation about Miss Froy’s disappearance. The cast really give it both barrels, with every line eliciting gasps or riotous laughter. This speaks of enormous potential for the rest of the run, and I hope the company find a way to harness it.
The Lady Vanishes is a good-natured play, frustrating but intermittently inspired. Though its narrative plods, in part due to the derivative nature of its characters, it is elevated by a good cast – with excellent individual performances – and a glorious endgame.