The first thing to say about The Lady Vanishes – the stage adaptation of Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat’s scripts for the film of the same name (which they in turn had adapted from Ethel Lina White’s novel The Wheel Spins) – is that it’s extremely clever. The second is that it’s thoroughly enjoyable.
Originally staged as part of the Jill Freud Company’s summer season in Aldeburgh and Southwold, it is on the last two laps of a short tour. The tour should be longer; this is an ideal show for smaller-scale theatres with audiences prepared to be intelligently amused and Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre should be congratulated on seizing the opportunity to become involved with it.
If you know the 1938 film, directed by Hitchcock with Michael Redgrave and Margaret Lockwood in the leading parts, you’ll know the story. If you don’t, never fear – the title leads you gently in as an odd assortment of travellers set out from an Alpine inn to cross into northern Europe and the cruel shadow of the forthcoming Second World War darkens their passage.
They include a young woman going home to Britain to be married, a brace of cricket-mad Englishmen (the sort who dress for dinner and don’t speak a word of any other language), a cocky young man (who is a linguist) and a former governess whose charges have now grown up. When they embark on the Trans-Alpine Express, they’re joined by a doctor, some nuns, an illusionist and a baroness.
Maurice Rubens’ set is a clever one. At first we see various rooms and hallways in the gasthof, then all this turns to reveal the inside of the train with luggage van, compartments, dining car and corridors as the action quickens. Nine actors play all the parts, necessitating some quick changes. Penelope Rawlins is the feisty heroine, at first failing to convince anyone who matters that her memory is not at fault and Darrell Brockis is the man who switches from being part of her nightmare to become a dream partner.
The bumbling comic leads Charters and Caldicott are played by Clive Flint and Andrew Bone with a nice sense of timing. Miss Froy, the title character, is given her proper dimension by Jane Evers with Terry Molloy turning in a neat double as the over-the-top gasthof manager Salvatore and Dr Hartz, a psychiatrist with more than one agenda in his medical bag. Mark Sterling is the director. One slight quibble – would pukka Englishmen of the 1930s wear black ties with formal tail suits? I think not.