MERCIFULLY few of us will ever know the horror and helplessness faced by families when a child disappears in mysterious circumstances.
The high profile of such cases in the media does, however, allow a shared national grief when tragedies occur. At the Theatre Royal, Windsor this week - ironically coinciding with the jailing of the perpetrator of a particularly harrowing modern day crime - audiences get a vivid reminder that such wickedness is nothing new.
The Governess, set in 1860, shows the devastating effects when a baby vanishes from its cot in the middle of the night.
Written by Patrick Hamilton, whose most famous work is the Victorian melodrama Gaslight - later made into a film by Alfred Hitchcock - it is based on the true story of a young boy who was killed after disappearing from a large country house in Wiltshire, a case which made national headlines.
The Governess was first staged in 1945 - hardly the best time to put on a new work about such a tragedy when audiences were craving light-hearted offerings after the horrors of war. After a short run it was abandoned and forgotten.
Now producer and actor Roy Marsden, a long-term fan of Patrick Hamilton's work, has made the bold decision to revive the play, aware of the enormous appetite of audiences for crime mysteries.
Jenny Seagrove takes the lead role of Ethel Fry on a stage where she has appeared with great success on several previous occasions.
Prim and proper as such a governess would have been in an upper-class houehold in Victorian times, a very different and passionate side to Ethel's character appears when she is alone with 'the Governor' head-of-the-house George Drew, played by Colin Buchanan.
Seagrove certainly sets the temperature soaring inside the theatre in her secretly sassy alter ego. Tension of another kind takes over as it becomes clear that the baby is nowhere to be found.
Carolyn Backhouse as the child's mother, gives a highly convincing portrayal of a woman overcome with the harrowing sense of loss, while Lydia Orange as the child's elder sister Ellen is equally effective in the difficult role of a troubled, nightmare-effected young lady.
Robert Rees is ideal as the family's foppish eldest son. With no trace of the baby the family tries to come to terms with its loss, but nothing will be the same again. The play moves on six months and into the picture comes Detective Inspector Rough of Scotland Yard, (also featured in Gaslight), who soon makes it clear that he is equal to the ebullient George Drew and slowly, skillfully and methodically breaks down the barriers of opposition to his presence. Stage and screen stalwart Peter Bowles is perfect in the role.
This is a highly-enjoyable production. Don't expect a complicated Agatha Christie-style plot with numerous red herrings. The plot is fairly straight forward, examining schizophrenia in Victorian society and the way it was viewed by those in authority in those days.
All the action is set in the same room but the technical team has made a marvellous job in creating the perfect atmosphere, particularly the opening scenes when the 'sunlight' and bird song make it feel just like being in a country house in the early morning.
Congratulations to Roy Marsden and all involved in rescuing an intriguing piece of work from theatrical obscurity.
The Governess is at The Theatre Royal, Windsor, until Saturday May 25. Contact the box office on 01753 853888 or www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk .