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Stage version tweaks Hitchcock thriller

By Margaret Chrystall


The Lady Vanishes

Eden Court

* * *

A PACKED first night audience stepped aboard the retro train whisking them back to a pre-World War II world of classic thriller The Lady Vanishes.

Eden Court thrilled to the sound of rousing classical music before the curtain opened on the grandiose Austrian/German station where – milling about purposefully – were the passengers who were all familiar to anyone who has seen Alfred Hitchcock’s 1938 film version of the thriller.

Troublesome for those who know the film well might be the fact the stage play offers some odd changes.

But still packed with the witty lines of the movie’s Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder, the play got off to a good start with Juliet Mills in the title role as the soon-to-be-disappearing governess Miss Froy, both charming and slightly mysterious – or “whimsical” as cricket fans Charters and Caldicott would call her.

As in the movie, these two characters – played by Robert Duncan and Ben Nealon – almost stole the show, getting more well-oiled as their avalanche-delayed journey proceeded.

Iris (Lorna Fitzgerald) and Max (Matt Barber) look for Miss Froy.
Iris (Lorna Fitzgerald) and Max (Matt Barber) look for Miss Froy.

And in the fine tradition of romantic couples who loathe each other at first sight, Lorna Fitzgerald as society bride-to-be Iris and Matt Barber as the irritatingly energetic engineer/folk dance collector Max quickly started trading insults.

"You’re the most contemptible person I’ve ever met in all my life!” Iris told Max who instantly riposted: “Confidentially, I think you’re a bit of a stinker, too.”

Miss Froy quickly vanished from the sleeping Iris’s compartment and the story ramped up as Iris discovered that none of the other passengers admitted to having glimpsed the governess – slightly less believable than the film as the play’s first scene had shown Miss Froy telling her life story at the station cafe!

Max, Iris and Signor Doppo (Mark Carlisle) clash in a dramatic fight scene.
Max, Iris and Signor Doppo (Mark Carlisle) clash in a dramatic fight scene.

Catching the words of the station master and some other characters was difficult in the play's early moments.

A completely contrasting issue meant it was worth heeding the warning outside the theatre about loud gunshots during the show – and maybe the super-loud station official's whistle which saw a lady in front of me practically jump out of her seat every time he went for it!

Unintentional humour saw titters from the audience greeting poor Maxwell Caulfield (Dr Hartz) trying to close the train compartment doors several times without success. And some classic moments of the film – such as where the name ‘Froy’ should appear for seconds on the train window – were squandered, though the fight scene with Max, Iris and magician Doppo (Mark Carlisle) was a complete delight.

As was a final surprise cameo appearance from a cigar-smoking top politician of the day!

As the thriller sped to its dramatic conclusion, the audience laughed and gasped in all the right places and a happy buzz from people leaving the theatre after the show suggested the play had been on the right track for entertainment central.

The play The Lady Vanishes, starring Juliet Mills, Maxwell Caulfield and Lorna Fitzgerald, is on at Eden Court until Saturday with matinees on Thursday (April 18) and on Saturday, both at 2.30pm.

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