Based on the Alfred Hitchcock film of the same name, The Lady Vanishes is a thriller set during the Nazi occupation of Austria and surrounds the sudden disappearance of an elderly lady on a train ride. This production is well-polished and remains engaging throughout.
The curtains go up, and right away the action begins. We are treated to a set that perfectly captures the look of a railway station during the German occupation – right down to the two Swastika flags hanging in the background, and the stone carving of the Nazi eagle. There are delightfully many details to spot as the first scene progresses and we are introduced to some of the key characters. Among these, Miss Froy (Juliet Mills) immediately stands out for her strong presence and interesting personality, which Mills brings across wonderfully.
The realist aspect of the play is communicated very well. From the strikingly realistic set to the consistent actions of the characters in the background at any given point, everything feels as though the story we are being told is one which has really happened. This helps in creating a sense of unease when Miss Froy actually disappears. While I personally feel that this scene could have been made more chilling, it retains a powerful effect because it is the exception to the otherwise-perfect mirror of reality that the production presents us with. This is a major strength of the production.
The show surprised me in how funny it was. Humour is not usually the first thing that comes to mind where the genre of thriller is concerned, but the actors in The Lady Vanishes really brought across the more lighthearted moments. The audience laughed often and I found that this unexpectedly funny side to the show enhanced the experience. Unfortunately, not every emotion came across as well as the humor did. At times, the tone shifts felt very sudden and jarring – which is most likely a script issue more than anything else. Nonetheless, I felt that these tone shifts could have easily been remedied by tweaking the pacing to make them feel less abrupt.
One thing I wish had been explored more was the use of music. In a show which hinges on the very specific use of a Schubert piece, I would have hoped that more attention was given to music as a part of the production. Several scenes could have been enhanced by adding some musical component – at times, the absence of any sound felt more like a ‘gap’ than an intentional choice. The few times when music was played, it certainly contributed effectively to the scene, which only made it more frustrating that the potential to influence the audience’s emotions with music was not used more. This is a staple of Hitchcock’s work and I believe it would have translated well to the stage, especially in the hands of the staff behind this otherwise highly-polished production.
This is a visually stunning show that benefits from excellent casting. I loved its humorous moments and thoroughly enjoyed each actor’s performance. Despite the few script and music issues, the show is very much worthwhile to see.
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