The Lady Vanishes

Feb 19 2019 | By More

★★★★☆   Without a Hitch

King’s Theatre Mon 18 – Sat 23 Feb 2019
Review by Martin Gray

The Lady Vanishes, but audiences won’t as a stage version of Alfred Hitchcock’s beloved thriller comes to the King’s as part of its UK tour.

It’s 1938 and a colourful batch of characters waits to join a train bound for Austria. There’s the lawyer Todhunter and ‘Mrs Todhunter’, his mistress; English pals Charters and Caldicott; Max, an engineer with a surprising fondness for European folk dancing; playgirl Iris returning to England to be married; and Miss Froy, a harmless old governess…

Juliet Mills, Joe Reisig, Mark Carlisle and Lorna Fitzgerald. Pic: Paul Coltas

While everything seems pretty jolly – station attendants wearing swastika armbands dance with Iris and her pal Blanche – a sinister figure stalks the platform in full Nazi regalia. As they’re about to board the train, Iris is bashed on the head by a clumsy porter as she tries to pass Miss Froy the bag she’s been looking for.

Miss Froy helps her onboard and, after Iris recovers somewhat, they get to know one another in the dining carriage. Back in their compartment, shared with the Nazi officer and an Italian stage magician, the still woozy Iris has a nap at Miss Froy’s suggestion, but when she wakes up… the lady has vanished!

Can Iris, with the help of the frightfully annoying Max, prove she isn’t going mad and save Miss Froy from whatever nefarious scheme she’s fallen prey to?

The traditional set-up is presented with great style in this Classic Thriller Theatre Company production. From the minute the stage lights go up on Morgan Large’s glorious railway station set, the backdrop taking us deep into the bowels of the building, it’s obvious we’re in safe hands.


Director Roy Marsden marshals his cast with the insight of the veteran actor he is, ensuring Antony Lampard’s adaptation of the screenplay by Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat has real pace.

The Cast of The Lady Vanishes. Pic: Paul Coltas

The movie moments that have been shelved aren’t missed while the challenges of representing business that can’t really be done in a fixed set stage version – the railway station converts into the train and that’s it for the duration, with a bit of scene shifting quickly taking us from compartments to dining car and back again – merely bring fun challenges.

So while we don’t see some of the climactic action, and there’s a fair bit of ‘look, out there on the platform’, the tight ensemble pulls it all off with aplomb.

Speaking of the cast, it’s a real treat to have husband and wife Maxwell Caulfield and Juliet Mills together in this show, lending real star power to proceedings. While they don’t share a scene, they’re there, heading the cast without hogging the stage.

She is Miss Froy, he is the charming brain surgeon Dr Hartz, enlisted by Iris and Max to help solve the mystery. Mills turns in a nicely judged performance, while Caulfield brings suitable gravitas – and a decent Austrian accent – to his character.

amiable double act

As cricket bores Charters and Caldicott, Robert Duncan and Ben Nealon score at least a century with their amiable double act, while Elizabeth Payne and Philip Lowrie are enjoyably sparky as Margaret and her obnoxious married lover Todhunter.

Mark Carlisle is good value as the menacing magician, Signor Doppo while Joe Reisig is suitable imperious as the strutting Nazi. Natalie Law does treble duty, including a fun turn as a strangely sexy nun, while James Bose and Cara Ballingall round out the ensemble.

Matt Barber, Lorna Fitzgerald and Mark Carlisle. Pic: Paul Colton

Front and centre, though, are Lorna Fitzgerald and Matt Barber as Iris and Max, oil and water forced to mix and destined to fall in love as they solve the mystery. The pair have real chemistry and I’d love to see someone write a sequel play for the characters (stranger things have happened – Charters and Caldicott were revived for a TV series in the Eighties).

With lines like ‘Well, they can’t do anything to us, we’re British citizens’, I don’t doubt someone will find a Brexit subtext here. Forget it. This is a good old-fashioned Boy’s (and Girl’s!) Own adventure yarn brought to the stage with real elan. There’s intrigue, adventure, wit and, courtesy of dialect coach Helen Ashton, some frightfully good clipped accents of various stripes.

By the end of the evening audience members were oohing at the twists and aahing at the romance of a delightful romp that isn’t so much old fashioned as timeless. As train tickets go, this one is well worth the money.

Running time: Two hours (including one break in the journey)
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ.
Monday 18-Saturday 23 February 2019
Daily at 7.30 pm; Matinees Wed & Sat 2.30 pm
Tickets and details: Book online here.

The Lady Vanishes on tour 2019:
18 – 23 Feb Edinburgh
0131 529 6000 Book online
25 Feb – 2 Mar New Brighton
Floral Pavilion
0151 666 0000 Book online
4 – 9 Mar Blackpool
01253 290 190 Book online
11 – 16 Mar Richmond
0844 871 7651 Book online
19 – 23 Mar Malvern
Festival Theatre
01684 892277 Book online
25 – 30 Mar Bromley
Churchill Theatre
020 3285 6000 Book online
1 – 6 Apr Chesterfield
Pomegranate Theatre
01246 345 222 Book online
8 – 13 Apr Stoke
Regent Theatre
0844 871 7649 Book online
15 – 20 Apr Inverness
Eden Court
01463 234234 Book online
23 – 27 Apr Barnstaple
Queen’s Theatre
01271 316063 Book online
3 – 8 June Doncaster
Cast Theatre
01302 303 959 Book online
10 – 15 June Llandudno
Venue Cymru
01492 872000 Book online
17 – 22 June Lichfield
Garrick Theatre
01543 412121 Book online
24 – 29 June Aberdeen
His Majesty’s Theatre
01224 641122 Book online
1 – 6 July Glasgow
King’s Theatre
0844 871 7648 Book online
8 – 13 July Crewe
Lyceum Theatre
01270 368 242 Book online
16 – 20 July Cardiff
New Theatre
029 2087 8889 Book online
22 – 27 July Leeds
Grand Theatre
0844 848 2700 Book online


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