The Lady Vanishes

Darlington Hippodrome - until October 19.

The curtain rises to reveal shadowy figures, a dimly-lit cavernous station enveloped in a gloomy fug and Nazi banners being unfurled, the scene is set for an evening of old-fashioned intrigue.

It’s 1938 and we're introduced to Iris Henderson who is suffering a train delay as she makes her way from Austria to England to get married. She's to be joined on the journey by the sort of bunch of colourful characters that you'd expect to find in an inter-war Hitchcock murder-mystery, except there's been no killing, yet.

The Bill Kenwright production by The Classic Thriller Theatre Company retains much more than just the style and tone of the hit movie, which has been voted as among the 20th century's top films.

After a oafish porter almost knocks Iris out on the platform, she's befriended by archetypal English governess Miss Froy and the train station unobtrusively metamorphoses into a train carriage with two compartments.

With as neat a special effect as the exactingly prim governess, played by Gwen Taylor, best known for her Anne Foster character in Coronation Street, proof of her existence is left with her name spelt out on a steamy window, before she disappears. When Iris tries to find her, her travelling companions deny ever having met her and it's suggested to her she's having a reaction to concussion.

Tensions build as the drama on the train steams on towards the Swiss border, and Iris, played with enthusiasm by Scarlett Archer is joined by young musicologist Max.

The script is witty, and most of the laughs centre around self-centred English cricket enthusiasts Charters and Caldicott and a middle-aged couple having an affair. As a Nazi officer menacingly patrols up and down, such naive sentiments as ‘Well, they can’t do anything to us, we’re British citizens’, raise a laugh.

unapologetically old-fashioned, it’s also stylishly staged and winningly performed.

Andrew Lancel's Dr Hartz is wonderfully sinister and the fight scene featuring Martin Carroll's Signor Doppo is imaginative and well choreographed.

While there's a surprisingly large cast the set remains almost the same until after the play's climax, with dining and luggage cars being created with a few tables, chairs and suitcases. It helps the mostly middle-aged audience focus on the twists being unravelled.

The sounds and smells of the denouement are startling. Almost an assault on the senses.

Despite the jolting finale, director Roy Marsden's show has the comforting feel of yesteryear. A very traditional evening of theatrical entertainment.