The Lady Vanishes Review

Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford – until 16th February

Reviewed by Antonia Hebbert


It’s the late 1930’s at an Alpine railway station, assorted British travellers are waiting for their train. As arm banded Nazi types stalk menacingly about, a young English woman Iris (Lorna Fitzgerald) strikes up a friendship with the elderly Miss Froy (Juliet Mills). They get on the train, Iris falls asleep and when she wakes up… her new friend has gone. Everyone denies having seen her, including the people in the same compartment.

Whatever is going on? Is she deluded, due to a head injury? Are they deluded, or in denial? Or could it be that something more sinister is afoot? This play is based on Alfred Hitchcock’s 1938 film of the same name, and it’s a jolly romp. It’s brought to you by the Classic Thriller Theatre Company, which unabashedly aims to entertain rather than challenge your intellect. So as you would hope, the set is fabulous – the station scenes especially give a sense of a cavernous, cast-iron roofed space receding into a smoky, steamy distance (design by Morgan Large, lighting by Charlie Morgan Jones). The train compartments are neatly done, with the space in front serving as the corridor, where actors mostly remember to bob about a bit to give the impression of being on a moving train. Tables and chairs are swiftly brought on and off to transform the space into the buffet car, without interrupting the flow.

Among the characters, we meet a sinister Germanic doctor (Maxwell Caulfield), a flamboyant but dubious Italian magician (Mark Carlisle), two English chaps who are obsessed with cricket (Robert Duncan and Ben Nealon), and an enigmatic nun (Natalie Law). You get the picture. There are jokes about foreigners not understanding English, and the Brits are generally plucky, except for the tetchy solicitor (Philip Lowrie, aka Dennis Tanner in Coronation Street) who gets (spoiler alert) his just deserts. It could be just your cup of tea, but even if you’re not so keen on the cliches, it’s nice to look at. And it will get you looking up the old Hitchcock film, to see what subtle tricks the master used to make it one of the highest-ranked British films ever.