Theatre Review: The Lady Vanishes, A Hitchcock Revival That Plays Everything For Laughs
What are your plans for retirement? In your seventies or eighties could you imagine working six nights a week and shifting location every Sunday to unfamiliar accommodation and a different workplace? Whatever else you might say about the play itself, you have to admire the stamina of the veteran actors in this touring revival of Hitchcock's 1938 thriller The Lady Vanishes.
Set on a train journey across occupied Europe shortly after the invasion of Austria, the play features a fully-bandaged body swapped with a sweet English governess, a conjurer's 'disappearing' cabinet trick, a sword fight and a massive shootout. Any of these would be hard to accomplish in touring theatre, but with Morgan Large's detailed and flexible set, some disturbingly convincing Nazis, and a beautiful opening scene in a smoky railway station, the company pulls it off.
As the plot gets more far-fetched — "you have to get back to the War Office in London and sing this tune to Mr Churchill" — even the young romantic leads solving the mystery have no option but to play for comedy, and Matt Barber is specially effective as a sort of beardless Jack Whitehall figure. If he had a more experienced foil than Lorna Fitzgerald, this could be a real star turn.
In the original movie veteran double-act Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne played two cricket-mad old buffers whose presence is essential to the plot. Robert Duncan and Ben Nealon truly capture the period, but when everyone else is playing to the gallery, they don't quite get their chance to shine as the comic relief.
There's a certain amount of 'what did they used to be in' muttering from the audience, but a household name even from Coronation Street in the sixties or Drop the Dead Donkey in the nineties is still a household name — certainly among the households of Richmond-on-Thames.
Not everything has to be high drama. This is still an enjoyable evening out.
The Lady Vanishes, Richmond Theatre, The Green TW9 1QJ, £20-£38. Until 16 March (Richmond), 25-30 March (Bromley)
Last Updated 12 March 2019