Strangers on a Train – New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham

Writer: Craig Warner, based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith

Director: Anthony Banks

Reviewer: James Garrington

Two men meet by chance on a train crossing America. They share a few drinks, they tell each other about themselves, their ambitions and their problems – and an idea emerges, one which will change both of their lives forever.

Anyone who has read Patricia Highsmith’s book, or seen the famous Hitchcock film adaptation, will be familiar with the basic premise of the story – though this stage version by Craig Warner makes some fairly significant changes to the details, in part no doubt due to staging restrictions. Despite these changes, Warner’s script works well and tells an engrossing story without spoiling the integrity of the original plot – though a somewhat overlong first scene in the railway carriage demands some concentration to separate the essential elements of back story from the general conversation between the main protagonists.

Dominating the action is Chris Harper as brash, loud playboy Charles Bruno. Harper grasps his character right from the start when Bruno first accosts the man sitting quietly in the next seat. This man is successful architect Guy Haines, played by Jack Ashton. Ashton does a fine job as the slightly introverted man who was just trying to get on with his life before events overtake him and his character almost visibly starts to draw in on itself, when his life as he knew it starts to fall apart.

There is a good performance too from Hannah Tointon as Guy’s fiancée, Anne Faulkner, concerned and confused about why he seems unhappy but providing some unexpected backbone and cold calculation when the chips are down. Also notable is Helen Anderson (Elsie Bruno), whose relationship with her son Charles seems to be slightly closer than you might expect between a mother and son. Anderson doesn’t get much stage time but makes an impact every time she appears.

Then we have John Middleton, as Arthur Gerard, a private detective who has set himself to solving the mystery. Middleton makes the most of a rôle as a detective whom we seldom see uncovering any clues with the result that things seem too easy for him – but the play is not intended to be a detective thriller and Gerard is there to add another layer to the psychological drama.

David Woodhead’s set design helps to keep the action moving forward, consisting of a series of sliding panels which reveal different parts of the set. This allows an almost movie-like feel as the action cuts quickly from one scene to another, though it does force a lot of the scenes to be quite static and – perhaps intentionally – claustrophobic. There’s good use of music too, a mixture of light jazz and some quiet operatic arias which subtly reinforce the action on the stage.

Strangers on a Train provides a good night out for any fan of psychological thrillers, with enough deviation from the original book and film that even those who know the story well may find themselves wondering where it’s going next.

Runs until 3 February 2018 | Image: Contributed

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  1. We went to the matinee 31st January row c7 & 8. When the tickets were purchased from the front of house we wasn’t told there was a VERY Restricted view of the play. The first half had a lot of restrictions due to the scenery only opening one side of the stage on the left so everyone on the far right couldn’t see what was going on, this made for a very disappointing section. Everyone that was seated in front of us and a few rows behind were all not happy and said they were going to complain. While not being able to see the players we could see the stagehands in the wings moving around. We have been to see 5 shows and sat in the same section over the last12 months and never had a problem but this was very disappointing. On the plus side the 2 main male actors were incredible and the story was good but I am very wary of going to another play there again. I was also surprised to see actor Chris Harper wearing a suit with the trousers showing worse for wear around the rear end and another suit with the sleeve seam all splitting open.

  2. We saw the play on 1 February but found it hard to follow due to the seating. we were in row Q in the middle but because of people’s heads dodging about to see the stage sets it was hard to follow. We thought the actors would have microphones in this day and age so a couple of the actors who had softer voices did not carry to row Q! We thought Chris Harper was excellent, quite a change for his Corrie part. I also wish to add a comment for the theatre and their outrageous drinks prices which were higher than a posh restaurant £15.80 for two small (125ml) glasses of Pino Grigio so take plenty of money!

  3. Fantastic play, acting was superb and the sound and set design were very clever, however we weren’t sitting in restricted viewing seats yet we couldn’t see some of the sections where the actors were at the side due to them being positioned inside the far left/right the sliding set- cpuld only see a foot for 2 sections in particular! This did spoil it a little and there would have been quite a high percentage of people in the same boat unless you were right in the centre of the theatre. Still thoroughly enjoyed the play though.

  4. Yes, I agree with the above- we were only 3 rows back and sitting to the side with very restricted views of the stage because of the set layout- so disappointing after such good reviews and we were really looking forward to this show- only those who had seats directly in front of the performers would have benefited from the great performance- we also struggled to hear at times which has never been a problem in other theatres.

  5. I totally agree with all the comments made. The actors were amazing, but even sat on the front row, centre stage, we struggled to see the far right and far left! Also agree with costume faux pas!!! trousers split, and someone coming on stage with two different shoes! I actually thought it might be relevant to the storyline!!! Also noticed curtains being left open at the side seeing stage hands! The worst part of the night was being approached by a member of staff asking us to be quiet??? We were engrossed watching at the time! Then, a member of security approached us saying there had been complaints made about us! I’ve seen the comments about heads bobbing about, and yes, ours were! Trying to see far right and far left! Plus the lighting of the fire on stage caused so many fumes that even people were commenting behind us! We have asked for an explanation about the complaints made against us as it totally ruined our night, and paid almost £200 with tickets prices, drinks, and the travel cost to get there! We have been going for a number of years, but doubt if we will be going again to be so humiliated!

  6. loved it especially with christopher harper from coronation street as soon as i clapped her eyes on him i instantly recognised him xx

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