Review: The Lady Vanishes, Derby Theatre

I have just checked my past posts on this site and it seems it was just short of a year ago that I watched Bill Kenwright’s The Case of the Frightened Lady.

If you read that review you will know that I didn’t much like the drama, set in one room of a country home, and I questioned the production company’s strategy when choosing thrillers to adapt. I reckoned they worked on the principle of  ‘keep it simple and get it out there’.

Clearly having forgotten that experience, last night I headed for Derby Theatre for potentially more of the same with The Lady Vanishes from Kenwright’s The Classic Thriller Theatre Company. The play has been adapted by Antony Lampard from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1938 film.

There were a few déjà vu moments – Scarlet Archer was in both for starters –but otherwise this show was much more enjoyable than last year’s and it must have been a considerably tougher challenge for the designers. It can’t be often you are asked to try and convey a moving steam train complete with individual compartments on stage, but they did it quite successfully and the set was suitably impressive – especially the station scenes.

The plot follows young socialite Iris Henderson (Scarlet Archer) as she travels through Nazi-controlled Europe on a journey back to Britain for her wedding day. 

After getting thumped on the head at the train station, Iris is helped on to the train by the mild-mannered, retired governess Miss Froy, who was played by Derby’s own much-loved Gwen Taylor. I am sure the cheers she received from the audience at the end of the evening must have been in appreciation of her accomplishments during a lifetime on stage.

After falling asleep in her train compartment, Iris is shocked to find that Miss Froy has disappeared and everyone else on the train denies her existence.  With her suspicions heightened, earnest Iris turns detective and enlists the cynical Max (Nicholas Audsley) who helps uncover a dastardly plot by Dr Hartz (Andrew Lancel) and the Nazis.

It’s the 21st century so it stands to reason that a play set in the 1930s will lack any real thrills. Even if you have managed to miss out on the film all these years it is not too difficult to guess what’s going on pretty much from the start. But what the heck, Nazis are thwarted by Brits abroad, love blossoms and the cheating husband gets his just deserts. Not only that there’s a gun battle and lots of jolly good fun courtesy of the two old school tie-types Charters and Caldicott (Denis Lill and Ben Nealon).

Bill Kenwright and his team obviously know what makes the British tick when it comes to drama. Give us a bit of nostalgia, a steam train, cricket references, a baddie or two, a pretty young woman and some plucky chaps to save the day and we seem to be more than happy. 

They certainly must be getting something right as tickets for the show which is on at Derby Theatre until Saturday are selling extremely well. Apart from Thursday there are just a handful left every night. Click here to book yours.