Theatre review: The Lady Vanishes
The Lady Vanishes at Richmond Theatre – a fun theatrical take on the chilling Alfred Hitchcock classic that propelled the director to Hollywood stardom
Translating a Hitchcock classic onto the stage is no easy feat but the Classic Thriller Theatre Company attempt to do so at Richmond Theatre with wit and tasteful nods to the notable 1950s film director.
Curtains open and audiences are propelled to 1940s Austria, with the unmistakable symbol of Nazi dominance – the eagle – looming over the stage. Hitchcock’s tale is set in a fictional European land and so the World War Two setting marks a clear difference between the play and the film, but one that sets the scene and immediately transports audiences to a clear place and time.
Big fur coats, tweed and thick Received Pronunciation accents add to the setting and audiences are introduced to a motley group of travellers including the bumbling Gilbert, two enthusiastic cricket fans, a suspiciously shifty couple, all awaiting to board a train back to London. We are introduced to the ‘trifle whimsical’ Miss Froy, who befriends our heroine Iris Henderson, who is heading home where she is due to be married.
The stage then transforms with impressive ease and ticket offices become an onstage train with different compartments deftly used as mini stages where the story unfolds. The train works well and clever lighting gives the impression of a sleeper hurtling through Europe while a distant hum of train sounds rock the audience into a false sense of security. Hitchcock-esque music between scenes is a tasteful nod to the director and his famous cinematic techniques.
As expected, there is a disappearance, and we then see Iris going through various stages of hysteria as, one by one, the fellow passengers and in particular, Dr. Egon Hartz, convince her that the elderly and unassuming Miss Froy never existed. Iris, after much convincing of her sanity, gets the backing of the blundering Gilbert and the pair go on a quest to disentangle the mystery.
As the story continues to unravel, the audience are swept up in Iris’s frustration. While the comedy element adds to the fun of the play, it also detracts from the thrill of the plot and the Hitchcock-esque mystery thriller genre becomes blurred, making the play more of a 1940s romp. A key moment in the film where Miss Froy’s traced name, previously written on a frosted window, becomes visible in a tunnel is also missing from the stage adaptation, while it is a pivotal moment in the film that works as a moment of high cinematic suspense. None-the-less, audiences are hooked on the plot and happily swept up on the journey as the train continues to dash through Europe.
Richmond Theatre, on until Saturday 16 March and touring.
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