The Lady Vanishes at the King's Theatre, Edinburgh
I love living in Edinburgh. The close proximity of so many theatres, the arts festivals, and being able to offer a home from home for touring actors makes it the perfect place. We were made for each other.

But the King’s latest production has rendered me homesick. Until my move 400 miles north my second home for 30 years was the Theatre Royal Windsor. It’s where I interviewed countless actors and reviewed innumerable productions.

The reason I feel like this is that the company performing this week is Bill Kenwright’s The Classic Thriller Theatre Company, which began life in Windsor and where it still starts its national tours. It’s where I often bumped into the prolific West End impresario, who took on the theatre in 1997, and where I looked forward to talking to the lovely Roy Marsden (remember TV’s Insp Adam Dalgleish?) who directs this production.

There is always something familiar about these plays. They hark back to bygone days when everything had a quality feel, from the writing and the presentation to the characters and the way they spoke, dressed and behaved.

So this classic is easy on the eye. I love Morgan Large’s backdrop of a station (somewhere near Austria). Together with Charlie Morgan Jones’ lighting and Dan Samson’s sound, it sets the scene perfectly for a good, old-fashioned mystery thriller.

There is also quality in the casting. Juliet Mills, member of the acting dynasty which includes sister Hayley and included father Sir John, is joined by another kind of royalty…TV soap stars Lorna Fitzgerald, who played Abi Branning in EastEnders, and Philip Lowrie, long-time resident of Coronation Street.

The 1938 film, which was the making of its director Alfred Hitchcock, was voted 31st of the Best British films Ever in 2017, but I wouldn’t include Antony Lampard’s adaptation in a similar category. The plot, surrounding an elderly governess who vanishes on a train travelling to Paris and London in the late 30s, is somewhat convoluted by today’s standards though I like to think of it as a glorious romp featuring plenty of gunfire, a sword-wielding magician, a high-heeled-wearing nun and the mummified patient of a brain surgeon – and that’s just for starters!

Fitzgerald successfully shakes off her East End roots to play Iris, a somewhat air-headed girl who is travelling home to marry a lord when she is accidentally struck on the head and is befriended by Miss Froy (Mills), who subsequently disappears. Strangely, the other passengers then deny having ever seen her as Iris sets out, sometimes rather hysterically, to find her.

As can happen on any train, there is a mixed bag of characters, all played with aplomb, though they need to be on the same page when it comes to movement as if in motion on a train! Lowrie is a grumpy, bumbling lawyer afraid of being discovered with his mistress; Maxwell Caulfield (still memorable from the 80s Dynasty  spin-off The Colbys, and also Juliet Mills’ husband of 39 years) is a Viennese brain surgeon, and Joe Reisig is a menacing presence as a Nazi official. For a bit of light relief, though there are many laughable moments, Robert Duncan and Ben Nealon make a wonderful double act as upper-class cricket-mad Englishmen trying to get back home for the Test Match, while Mark Carlisle shows his versatility as an Austrian-type station master and a Cockney porter but goes a little over the top as Italian magician Signor Doppo.

The most spirited performance, however, comes from Matt Barber as Max (an engineer who is also writing a book about folk dances, as you do) who starts out as a pompous, sarcastic character but wins the day by helping Iris solve the mystery of the vanishing lady.

Photo: Paul Coltas

Edinburgh Kings Theatre, 18-23 February
New Brighton Floral Pavilion Theatre, 25 February-2 March
Blackpool Grand Theatre, 4-9 March
Richmond Theatre, 11-16 March
Malvern Festival Theatre, 19-23 March
Bromley Churchill Theatre, 25-30 March
Chesterfield Pomegranate Theatre, 1-6 April
Stoke Regent Theatre, 8-13 April
Inverness Eden Court Theatre, 15-20 April
Barnstaple Queen’s Theatre, 23-27 April
Doncaster Cast Theatre, 3-8 June
Llandudno Venue Cymru, 10-15 June
Lichfield Garrick Theatre, 17-22 June
Aberdeen His Majesty’s Theatre, 24-29 June
Glasgow Theatre Royal, 1-6 July
Crewe Lyceum Theatre, 8-13 July
Cardiff New Theatre, 15-20 July
Leeds Grand Theatre, 22-27 July.