Writer: Patricia Highsmith
Adaptor: Craig Warner
Director: Anthony Banks
Reviewer: Joanna Trainor
Is there such a thing as the perfect murder?
Based on the 1950 novel by Patricia Highsmith, Craig Warner’s adaptation of Strangers on a Train comes to Richmond. When Guy Haines (Call the Midwife’s Jack Ashton) clinks glasses with fellow train passenger Charles Bruno (Chris Harper), he cannot imagine the turmoil it will cause him. Two complete strangers make a deal (sort of) on a train to commit a murder for the other, because why would anyone suspect people that seemingly have no connection to each other?
Chris Harper carries this production. His energy is electric as villain Charles Bruno, and he lifts every scene. Harper plays all aspects of the playboy dandy who descends into an alcoholic madness, picking up the homoerotic undertones in the script but somehow pairing it with a too close for comfort relationship with his Mother. When there’s a lot of shouting, or entirely emotionless acting going on at the Richmond Theatre, Harper is a clever and considered performer.
Comparatively, there appears to be no directorial reasoning behind Haines’ architect assistant – Frank Myers’ insanity. A little quirky to begin with, by the end of the first act he’s jumping on furniture, his hair dishevelled and his waistcoat buttoned wrongly. Bruno’s behaviour is supposed to stand out, but when the two actors, who look very similar, play in consecutive scenes there is little to distinguish between the two. It unnecessarily takes away from the torturous affect Bruno is having on Haines’ life.
David Woodhead’s complex set of moving doors and compartments is a little over ambitious for a touring production. Throughout the show you can hear people moving stairs, desks and it’s often louder than the dialogue going on onstage. This could easily be first-night technical difficulties, but the set just doesn’t need to be that intricate. Duncan Mclean’s video and projection design is visually stunning. It adds touches like donut posters, and American flags, but also moves the story to another floor in the Bruno house, or across states. With location being such a vital part of the plot, the projections immerse the audience in the 1950s world.
Most interestingly, although adapted by the same writer, this production differs hugely from the performance that ran at the Gielgud Theatre in 2013. At times it makes sense, scenes are cut that can be explained with dialogue, but the ending is completely different. The intense finale that sees Haines and Bruno bound together is exchanged for a confrontation at an old train yard and it falls a bit flat.
Although Harper’s talent sets the stage alight, it’s probably better to watch the Hitchcock film or read the book, or simply think back to Laurence Fox and Jack Huston wrapped in each other’s arms at the Gielgud.
Runs until 24th February 2018 | Image: Contributed