“I feel like I’m the only one who doesn’t know how it ends,” said the man behind me as the lights went down after the interval for this stage version of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1938 film.
In truth it doesn’t matter whether you’ve seen the Hitchcock version or not. This adaptation, directed by Roy Marsden, is largely faithful to the original except it dumps the early hotel scenes and instead introduces the characters on the impressive railway station set that opens the play.
The story revolves around the disappearance of a tweed-wearing governess Miss Froy (Juliet Mills) during an eventful train journey from Austria to Switzerland just before WW2.
A young woman Iris (Lorna Fitzgerald) joins forces with Max (Matt Barber) to solve the mystery of why none of their fellow passengers remember seeing Miss Froy. Along the way they meet Nazis, a brain surgeon, a magician, a couple having an extra-marital affair and a pair of cricket-obsessed Englishmen.
Basically, it’s got all the ingredients of a great farce – and that’s partly the problem. This stage version often feels like a comedy, not an edge-of-the-seat thriller.
It begins with creaky old jokes about foreign accents which would be more at home in ‘Allo ‘Allo – while later on people are getting shot dead right in front of our eyes.
The cast is great. Juliet Mills is a pleasure to watch, and the cricket-loving Charters (Robert Duncan) and Caldicott (Ben Nealon) make the most of having all the best lines.
The train carriage scenes are superbly realised, with almost all the action taking place between private compartments, the dining car and the luggage wagon. (Great work by designer Morgan Large.)
Like a trip on a steam train, this is an old-fashioned and entertaining theatrical ride.
The Lady Vanishes is at Richmond Theatre until 16 March and then touring.