The Lady Vanishes – Review – Leeds Grand Theatre
By Carol Plant, July 2019
Based on the film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, presented by the Classic Thriller Theatre Company and starring a plethora of well-known stage and screen actors, The Lady Vanishes comes with real pedigree. I was looking forward to a classic whodunit evening, perched on the edge of my seat (and not just because I was overheating in the sweltering heatwave).
There’s no sneak preview of the stage this evening, we wait sweating for the curtains to rise to show a Nazi banner and a dark view of a train station causeway. We are thrown straight into the action. People talking and the movement of several characters. But the sound is poor – almost muffled in the heat. I struggle to hear what is being said, but battle on, desperately trying to work out what is happening and wondering if this is some intentional device to throw us off the scent.
But it is not. At the interval I ask around and everyone agrees: The sound is atrocious.
“A farce in masquerade”
Unfamiliar with the storyline I try to patch together what is happening. A group of passengers are trying to leave occupied Austria. An SS general is met with disdain by English characters. English characters get annoyed in a very British way because they have had to wait due to train cancellations. And that is honestly as much as I can work out.
I’m baffled, but my theatre instinct works out the usual suspects on board the train: An elderly spinster, two cricket-mad guys, a barrister and his mistress, a young cad.
Expecting suspense, instead I witness a farce in masquerade. The play is a shambles. Some lines draw laughter, but I can’t tell if it’s real or ironic or sympathetic, but it’s certainly sporadic. I wonder at some point if they should have pitched the thing all melodramatic and played it for laughs, but then I am wilting in the warmth.
“Over the top”
The direction is messy and clichéd. At times the characters talk over each other, adding more stress to the continual ear straining. The acting is over the top, the accents are jarring, including one infuriating attempt at an upper class 1930s delivery. I am unsure whether it is all deliberate from a cast who know they’re in a stinker.
Something positive? I note that the stage changes are impressively quick and well rehearsed. We go from station platform, to carriage to dining car all in what seems the blink of an eye.
But the main questions are unanswered. Where on earth has the lady got to? Has the young Iris simply hallucinated her? Why do some passengers say they have seen her and why do some say they haven’t? What is everybody hiding?
Well, if you want to find out you will have to go along and discover for yourself because I haven’t got a clue. Tell me then if I am being hypercritical.
As for this lady, she did indeed wish she could vanish.
images: Paul Coltas