ALFRED Hitchcock’s 1938 thriller The Lady Vanishes, adapted for the stage by Antony Lampard, is currently touring in a production directed by Roy Marsden.
It opens in an Austrian railway station, impressively designed by Morgan Large and atmospherically lit by Charlie Morgan Jones. There has been an avalanche and the train is delayed. The Anschluss has been declared, swastikas are flying and tensions are running high.
The passengers – a wealthy English girl returning home to marry, an English engineer and folk song collector, two cricket obsessed buffers, an elderly governess and a lawyer with his much younger mistress – are not pleased, and even more miffed that the local hotel has no food.
Then it’s announced that the snow has been cleared from the track and the train is about to depart. The set transforms very effectively into the railway carriage with compartments leading off the passageway, and that’s where the rest of the action occurs.
The audience at the opening night in Bath seemed unsure whether it was a spoof (in which case lots of laughs) or serious. The Classic Thriller Theatre Company website says: “a quick-witted and devilishly fun thriller, based on the 1939 Hitchcock classic, ranked as one of the best British films of all time.”
Sadly it misses out. Those hilarious plays-that-go-wrong actors would be mortified to produce fighting so abysmally amateurish as this – and that is SO unfair to the many excellent amateur companies. The 39 Steps it is not.
Our hero, Maximilian (BOVTS trained Matt Barber, best known for his role opposite Lily James in Downton Abbey) plays with considerable panache. Robert Duncan and Ben Nealon bumble about the crease loveably, Juliet Mills does a passable impersonation of Googie Withers as Miss Froy, Elizabeth Payne is a classic mistress of the period, and Lorna Fitzgerald is the heroine.
There’s lots of doubling.
It’s a pity that such a great story, given monumentally clever staging, should fail to find its own identity in this lumbering production.