Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder, adapted by Antony Lampard
The Classic Thriller Theatre Company
Grand Theatre, Blackpool
4 March 2019 - 9 March 2019, 2hr 5min with interval
Playing cherchez la femme across several moving train carriages was never going to be the easiest story to switch from screen to stage.
Undaunted, Bill Kenwright’s Classic Thriller theatre company does just that, booking seats for a first-class cast to re-enact Alfred Hitchock’s famous black and white movie in this fast-moving stage adaptation.
It’s an express train ride, condensing the story into two rapid 50-minute acts where plot, and characters, occasionally flash by just a little too quickly. Audiences familiar with the original 1938 movie, or even the more recent cinema and TV re-makes, should at least enjoy the ride.
Original writers Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder constructed a multi-faceted story of intrigue, romance and even comedy, all aboard a train ride across pre-war Europe.
When a young English tourist (Lorna Fitzgerald) discovers an elderly travelling companion seems to have disappeared, her unlikely saviour is a young musicologist (Matt Barber). Nowadays of course it’s much more likely that the entire train service has vanished...
Top billing here actually goes to husband-and-wife stars Juliet Mills and Maxwell Caulfield, and without spoiling too much of the plot it’s fair to say she tends to top and tail the story. Other familiar TV faces, Robert Duncan and Ben Nealon, re-create the comedy double act of Charters and Caldicott, who actually went on to appear in several more films.
The original movie poster for The Lady Vanishes promised ‘comedy, chills and chuckles’ and this production doesn’t always get them in the right order, or at least where it might want them. On opening night, an obstinate railway compartment door provided its own thrills for several members of the cast, and not a few chuckles from the audience.
The young lead characters are maybe a little too animated – or too youthful to know – that actually running along a swaying train corridor was nigh on impossible.
But this is, expressly, a romp as much as a thriller.