REVIEW: The Lady Vanishes at Cambridge Arts Theatre - a train journey that doesn’t quite arrive

Gwen Taylor stars in The Lady Vanishes at Cambridge Arts Theatre

Gwen Taylor stars in The Lady Vanishes at Cambridge Arts Theatre - Credit: Archant

A stage version of Hitchcock’s film The Lady Vanishes stars Gwen Taylor

What do you do if you are a young woman who has befriended an elderly lady on a train only to find that she has disappeared and that none of the other passengers - even those sitting opposite her in the carriage - will admit that she was ever there?

This is the plot of The Lady Vanishes, an intriguing film directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1938.

The stage adaptation by Anthony Lampard adds a lot more menace to the story. An inspired set by Morgan Large opens on a huge, gloomy railway station where the train has been delayed by an avalanche.

Nazi soldiers are stomping about and their threatening presence continues on the train. This on the eve of the Second World War, Germany has just annexed Austria. The atmosphere is full of foreboding because we know what is to come.

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Against that background, we have a mystery and a comedy.

Social butterfly Iris (Scarlett Archer) is travelling home to be "merried". She pals up with the elderly English governess, Miss Froy (Gwen Taylor) and when Miss Froy goes missing her fellow travellers (as it were) assume Iris is suffering from delusions.

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The others are a motley crew, two typical English gents, concerned to get home in time for the cricket, (played deftly by Denis Lill and Ben Nealon) a married couple having an affair (they are not married to each other) played by Mark Wynter and Rosie Thomson, and the only one who is prepared to help, the dashing young musician Max, played by Nicholas Audsley.

The cast seem to have a lot of fun with the piece. It is mostly played tongue in cheek so that we are invited to laugh at the characters, though Andrew Lancel as the sinister Dr Hartz and Joe Reisig as the terrifying Nazi official convincingly create types you would not want to get on the wrong side of.

The thing is though, the film is of its time, it is a piece of cinema history. It may be possible to create a stage version of it for now that roots audiences to the spot or has them doubled up with laughter but this piece is not it.

Like the train at once stage, it rather ends up in a siding.

The Lady Vanishes is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, October 5.

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