Gwen Taylor avoided watching the celebrated 1938 Hitchcock film when she was preparing to tread the boards in the new touring stage version of The Lady Vanishes (The Capitol, Horsham, Monday to Saturday, October 21-26).
“I chose not to see it, but I remember it with great affection,” says Gwen. “But I didn’t want to be affected by Dame May Whitty’s performance in the part I am playing… Dame May Whitty… What a wonderful name!”
Nor did Gwen see the touring production earlier this year before it was recast with the current cast.
“And I am glad that I didn’t. Everybody is fresh to it and we all want to bring something fresh to it.
“And we hope that people will come and see it because they know the story.”
When Socialite Iris’ travelling companion disappears, she’s bewildered to find fellow passengers deny ever having seen her.
“But with the help of musician Max, she turns detective, and together they resolve to solve this perplexing mystery…
Gwen plays Miss Froy, a passenger on the train at a time of great tension.
“It is set in Austria in 1938 just before the Anschluss, and there is a sense that something is happening. It is a play really about the Brits abroad.
“There are some that will never notice what is going on or will notice it and just carry on and think it is not their problem, and there are others that do notice what is going on and will become disturbed by it…
“My character is a children’s governess, and she wants to get home. She has been there for six years and she senses the trouble.
“And she wants to get home before it becomes impossible. But she is not all that she seems.
“I had better not say more! She is very successful as a children’s governess and everybody believes that she is a children’s governess, but there is something more to her…”
Adding to the richness of it all, amid the sense of threat, there are some wonderful moments of humour, Gwen says. And so far audiences are responding warmly to the show.
“But I don’t enjoy touring as much as I used to when I drove myself. I always had a great sense of pride when I drove into a city I didn’t know and found my way to where I needed to go.
“But I have given up driving now. I can’t bear motorway driving.
“I am 80, and I know lots of people will drive until they are 105, but I felt very disturbed by the great lorries coming out at you and I found myself getting very nervous. And I just thought that there are enough idiots on the road without me adding to them.
“But fortunately, I have got my darling husband who loves driving and drives so well.”
Gwen is one of Britain’s most celebrated TV stars, including her role as Anne Foster in Coronation Street. Gwen’s other on-screen credits include the title role in ITV’s Barbara, Duty Free, A Bit of a Do and Heartbeat.
Joining in The Lady Vanishes is her Coronation Street son and Villain of the Year Award winner Andrew Lancel, whose theatrical credits include Twelve Angry Men, The Small Hand and Cilla The Musical.
The show also features Denis Lill, star of the TV drama The Royal and Alan Parry in Only Fools and Horses; Call the Midwife actress Scarlett Archer; theatre and British hit parade star Mark Wynter; Nicholas Audsley, best known as the Duke of Monmouth in smash hit TV series Victoria and Ben Nealon whose credits include Soldier Soldier.
The production is directed by Roy Marsden who is best known as an actor, particularly in his role as Commander Adam Dalgliesh in ITV’s P D James series, which he played for 15 years.
Tickets for The Lady Vanishes are available from The Capitol’s box office.