Writer: Craig Warner
Director: Robert Allan Ackerman
Reviewer: Samuel Hopkins
Could this new stage production of ‘Strangers on a Train’ mark the return of a commercially successful thriller in London? The last time we saw an Alfred Hitchcock movie make a West End debut was ‘The 39 Steps’ which rejected its original style and transformed the piece into a hysterical satire. Instead ‘Strangers on a Train’, based on the 1950 novel by Patricia Highsmith and was then turned into an Alfred Hitchcock movie the following year, embraces its Hollywood roots and brings film noir to the stage.
For those who have never read the book or seen the film, the show tells the story of two complete strangers who (as the title may suggest) meet on a train. One man, Bruno, has a revelation and goes on to try and convince Guy that the two should ‘swap murders’ creating the perfect crimes – no evidence, no motives. Through the rest of the piece we see the increasingly bumpy relationship between the two men spiral downwards, never knowing when the fragile framework lives are going to cave in, crash and burn.
One of the most notable elements of the show is the innovative revolving set (Tim Goodchild) which creates some of the quickest scene changes to date, adding to the film like feel of the show. As the huge three-sectioned revolve turns the set is completely stuck and, as if by magic, another scene has been set by the time it returns to the front. One moment we are in a dining carriage, the next at a fairground, and the next in a modernist living room. The set and costumes are entirely formed of black, white, and mid shades of grey, as if the original black and white film has come alive on stage. The clever use of projection also adds to the cinematic feel of the show, creating the shadows that crowd the sinister story.
Although the grandeur of the set certainly emphasises its 1950’s Hollywood feel, the show is not reliant on the set to make it work as a piece. The new play would work equally well in a small black box theatre because of the intensity of the writing. The good work by the actors on stage meant that the show could transfer to a space, with no set and minimal props and would still work as a thrilling piece of theatre.
Jack Huston gives a stand out performance as Bruno, who he plays with such well-mannered charm and crazed obsession in tandem. His eerie presence makes the relationship between himself and Guy, played by Laurence Fox, so deliciously uncomfortable, with the homoerotic undertones running through the whole piece played so subtlety and yet with such boldness. Imogen Stubbs as Anne, Bruno’s mother, has the qualities of a fading Blanche DuBois, that theatrical Archetype that an audience immediately connects with. She brings a great deal charisma onto the stage and earns the audiences’ undivided attention with her sheer brilliance.
Strangers on a Train has all the qualities needed to become the next ‘Woman in Black’ and provides a gripping night at the theatre for both those who know and love the genre well, and those who are new to it.