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A CurtainUp London Review
The Lady Vanishes

Iris: "You're the most contemptible person I've ever met in all my life!" (br) Max: "Confidentially, I think you're a bit of a stinker, too."
The Lady Vanishes
Cast in The Lady Vanishes
(Photo: Paul Coltas)
I remember Alfred Hitchcock visiting the Cambridge University Film Society in the 1960s, so where better than the Cambridge Arts Theatre to see the first British stage adaptation of The Lady Vanishes Hitchcock's last film made in England before he went to America? The young hero of the play Maximillian (Nicholas Ausdsley) even has the line "I'm a Cambridge Man myself."

One wet Saturday afternoon I caught myself watching the last hour of the 1938 Hitchcock film of The Lady Vanishes and was caught up in its suspense and tongue in cheek humour with Michael Redgrave in the Maximillian part but then named a 1930 fashionable Gilbert and Margaret Lockwood as Iris Henderson. The Lady Vanishes is the perfect play for Brexit with its portrayal of the Germans as Nazis and the English gentlemen obsessed with cricket, Charters (Denis Lill) and Caldicott (Ben Neale). There is the dashing, heroic Max, the beautiful English heroine Iris (Scarlett Archer) and the hypocritical barrister Todhunter Eric (Mark Wynter) and his unfulfilled mistress Margaret, travelling as "Mrs Todhunter", (Rosie Thomson). It is a glorious blend of pastiche stiff upper lip, escapist thrills and rib tickling humour. The "Brexit" aim is to escape Nazi dominated Germany and Austria.

The plot also dovetails with modern plays about women whose truth is dismissed as the result of feminine misunderstanding or neurosis, like The Girl on the Train. In this case, Iris is hit on the head by someone carrying a pair of skis at the station and this is offered as the explanation that she is suffering from concussion, when she is convinced that her fellow traveller Miss Froy (Gwen Taylor) has disappeared while on the train to the Swiss border with Austria.

There is also the relationship between Max who starts as sardonic and witty but with his feeling humiliated by Iris after she laughs at him dropping his luggage and calling her "a bit of a stinker". So like many good romances, this starts as two people disliking each other. Antony Lampard has written the stage adaptation and cleverly steered away from some of the sexist pitfalls of the original film.

Roy Marsden as director has honed this production with his troupe of experienced and skilled actors away from the clunkiness of some Agatha Christie productions which I have often found better on the page than the stage. One notable exception is County Hall's Witness for the Prosecution review, but then I still have to see The Mousetrap!

Scarlett Archer's Iris redeems her slightly spoilt character by being thwarted in her insistence that Miss Froy was on the train so we can sympathise with Iris. Nicholas Audsley's Max too starts as outspoken and inconsiderate but we are ready to cheer when he comes onside. I think I'd be casting him as the next Bertie Wooster such is the wonderful delivery and subtle facial expressions of the young English blade.

Denis Lill and Ben Nealon as Charters and Caldicott have some of the best lines when they get infuriated by no-one abroad understanding English, even when they shout! Their recreation of a cricket match with sugar cubes in the train's restaurant car is a classic. Gwen Taylor deceives as an innocent old lady and Andrew Lancel appears as a knowledgable German brain surgeon with plenty of pseudo-Freudian phrases to describe psychiatric syndromes. A team of extras play the sinister, jack booted, black coated with swastika, uniformed Nazis.

Dan Samson's sound design incorporates classical music with its grandiose filmic genre as well as some chugging steam trains effects. We can forgive Morgan Large's travelling set from some door panel hiccoughs so that different carriages can reveal different occupants in the train. The pile of antique leather luggage is to die for. I liked too the railway arch above the stage and the plumes of smoke.

If this is the excellent calibre of thrilling touring productions, I think the West End has a lot to learn.

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The Lady Vanishes
Written by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder
Adapted by Antony Lampard
Based on the film directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Directed by Roy Marsden
Starring: Scarlett Archer, Nicholas Audsley, Gwen Taylor, Andrew Lancel, Denis Lill
With: Mark Wynter, Ben Nealon, Rosie Thomson, Martin Carroll, Joe Reisig, Natalie Law, George Haines-Turner, Kirsty King
Design: Morgan Large
Lighting Design: Charlie Morgan-Jones
Sound Designer: Dan Samson
Choreographer: Chris Cuming
Fight Director: Richard Leggett
The Classic Theatre Company production for Bill Kenwright
Website and online booking:
Running time: One hour 55 minutes with an interval
Box Office in Cambridge : 01223 503333
Booking at Cambridge Arts to 5th October 2019
7th to 12th October Derby Theatre, Derby
15th to 19th October Hippodrome Theatre, Darlington
21st to 26th October The Capitol, Horsham
28th October to 2nd November Norcott Theatre, Exeter
4th to 9th November Theatre Royal, Brighton
11th to 16th November Octagon Theatre Yeovil
18th to 23rd November Princess Theatre, Torquay
25th to 30th November Ashcroft Playhouse, Croydon
2nd to 7th December 2019 Congress Theatre, Eastbourne
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 30th September 2019 performance at The Cambridge Arts Theatre, 6 St Edwards Passage, Cambridge CB2 3PJ (Rail: Cambridge)
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