IS A BIT OF A TRAIN CRASH
What a joy I thought to see a play take to stage at The Grand Theatre after a long season of back to back musicals.
When I was young I remember going to the Grand with my mother, week after week and sitting in the Balcony at the 5.00pm performance. I saw exceptional plays with some of the top names in the British Theatre such as Joan Greenwood, Flora Robson, Dame Sybil Thorndyke, Irene Handel, Pat Phoenix, Margaret Lockwood and Marius Goring punctuated by the occasional musical. This week’s review I thought was going to be one to remember – and it was for all the wrong reasons.
Fired up by up Morgan Large’s superb set, music that fits the mood and the excellent choreographed movement of the passengers, station staff and other characters I was enamoured by the first five minutes – but unfortunately it all stops there.
The main reason, Hitchcock’s work does not transfer to the stage successfully. There’s little suspense or drama – there is nothing to keep you on the edge of the seat. Hitchcock’s suspense was based on the cinematography, music and his specific style of shots that made for chilling moments.
This stage version from Bill Kenwright’s The Classic Thriller Company, adapted by Anthony Lampard, is based on the 1938 film – and that’s where it should have been left.
The plot is a forgone conclusion even if you haven’t seen the film. Socialite Iris has an accident on the station and is taken under the wing of Miss Foy, who is not what she seems -surprise surprise. Suddenly Miss Foy disappears and Iris is very upset that all the other passengers deny ever seeing Miss Foy. So with the help of Max, she turns detective and they finally unravel the story of why the lady vanishes.
As a stage play The Lady Vanishes has no suspense, tension or drama in it. There’s an overdose of over-acting, phony European accents, which has the effect of turning it into a farce at times – the final scene had even me in stitches.
Some cast members can’t be heard when turning or facing upstage and seem in need of a quick refresher course in voice projection. Philip Lowrie, as a lawyer travelling in secret with his mistress seemed and looked surplus to requirements and was one of these. Even Juliette Mills as the governess turned spy, Miss Foy was difficult to hear.
Most of the characterizations were abysmal which must land back in the court of director Roy Marsden, with the exception of James Boswell as Max, the superhero, who got it just right – pity he’s the understudy
Lorna Fitzgerald’s clipped voice and over melodramatic spin on the role of Iris became annoying after a while and somehow mid-way through her character changed completely from the girlie person we met in the station.
Almost believable were Robert Duncan and Ben Nealon as the cricket fans who despite all that’s going on round them don’t want to miss the test match.
The Lady Vanishes could have been so much better. I became bored with endless moving of tables and chairs and found the opening of the carriage doors, that resembled an flat pack wardrobe, annoying so old fashioned. Has the company not heard of LED walls and skilfully designed carriages, with gauze windows, that have been used in numerous other shows. These would have made so much difference to what for me by the end of the night became one awful train crash!
Runs till Saturday 27 July at The Leeds Grand Theatre.
Liz Coggins is a member of the Critics Circle