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