The Lady Vanishes

This stylish production of the classic Hitchcock film runs fine until it hits a dramatic moment – and then it gets derailed and the tension vanishes.

Scarlett Archer is delightfully glam as IT girl Iris, heading home to England by train to settle down and get married when she meets retiring governess Miss Froy (played, on autopilot, by Gwen Taylor).

She parries with engineer and (for daft Hitchockian plot reasons) folk music enthusiast Max, a dashing and cocky Nicholas Audsley – and it is little surprise that the two get more entangled as they uncover a dark and sinister Nazi plot.

Denis Lill and Ben Nealon are perfect as bumbling cricket-obsessed Brit gents abroad, providing flawless performances and the comic core of the piece.

The trouble, though, is the unwitting comedy. When Iris reaches breaking point her breakdown is forced and unconvincing, with a crowd scene where everyone is visibly waiting for the next line.

The fight that pits Archer and Audsley against the cardboard-cut out villain of Martin Caroll’s Sinor Doppo is so poorly choreographed and brokenly acted that it should be being played for laughs.

Given the pedigree of some of those on stage, and Ken Wright’s production experience, this really should be better.

Morgan Large’s design is strong, easily transitioning between station platforms and train carriages, with simple props switching us to the dining car or the luggage store, with subtle swirls of steam above the stage and lighting effects giving the ‘train’ motion.

Roy Marsden’s direction is a little languorous, particularly in the opening scenes and when the drama calls for the cast to be really on top of each other.

There is a lot to recommend this production, but in the translation to smaller stages in this latest tour it has lost the sheen that could make it really special.

If you really want to enjoy the story, track down Hitchock’s film instead.