Review: The Lady Vanishes @ Exeter Northcott

Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

This low energy, under rehearsed show had me hoping I’d vanish.

Producing giant Bill Kenwright, through the aptly named Thriller Theatre Company, brings us a tour of the stage version of this 1938 classic film by Hitchcock. Roy Marsden directs this cast of big names (lots of people from telly, apparently) who navigate a grey and textured stage designed by Morgan Large.

The story concerns the socialite Iris, a sweet and wide-eyed woman travelling back to England to get married, who befriends Ms Froy, a former governess and music teacher. Ms Froy is the lady who vanishes during the journey and the other passengers all seem to be conspiring against Iris, claiming that the woman was never there. All but Max, a charmer who chooses to believe Iris and helps her uncover the mystery. There is the touch of the international and the historical: Charters and Caldicott discuss the cricket in a quintessentially British manner, Sinor Doppo is an Italian magician, and Nazi soldiers patrol the train. With promises of thriller, espionage, coded messages through song, and a train filled with characters and mystery, I was excited to be taken on this journey. Unfortunately, almost everything fell flat.

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To start with the good elements, the individual actors clearly put in a lot of work. The problem is that they do not operate as a chorus on the same level. Scarlett Archer as Iris goes through a lovely personal character journey. Nicholas Audsley is a trusting Max, open and easy to relate to. There are five or six jokes in each act, but they are not balanced out by thrilling dialogue or action. The comic relief – and, mind you, it really was a relief – of Charters and Caldicott brought a chuckle and an occasional guffaw. Ben Nealon as Caldicott brought the much needed effervescent onto the stage, but by being head and shoulders above the other actors, he only highlighted their comparative lack of conviction.

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The opening sequence was weak, unconvincing and lacking energy. It wasn’t until about 40 minutes in when the titular action of the play occurs that there was any sense of purpose to this production. Importantly, the conviction of the setting of a moving train was lost; the actors were rocking in their own places out of time with each other; there was no physical representation of the dimension of the corridor; and the actors often stepped to the side to ‘let someone through’, ruining the illusion.

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The lowlight of the evening must have been the ‘fight’ at the beginning of Act 2. The scramble in the storage compartment was like the rest of the show: under rehearsed and lacking energy. The last 20 minutes of the show, on the other hand, are a riot – an explosion which acts less as a culmination of the building tension and more as a jolting wake-up after a snooze of an hour and a half. Elements with music were touching and the little dance with the passengers was enjoyable. However, the German accents came across as Dutch and there was no conviction in the actors when acting a different nationality – it just fell flat.

Josip Martinčić

 

‘The Lady Vanishes’ is playing at the Exeter Northcott until this Saturday, 2 November 2019. 

Photo Credit: Paul Coltas photography

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