Touring – reviewed at New Victoria Theatre, Woking
This stylishly staged production grabs the attention in the first act but seems to lose that intensity in the second.
What would you be prepared to do for a stranger? This is the central question in this intriguing thriller based on Patricia Highsmith’s debut novel, adapted into a play by Craig Warner that is not as straightforward as it first appears.
Strangers On a Train explores the lives of Charles Bruno and Guy Haines who become entangled with each other’s affairs on a train journey, leading to a deadly plan of double murder to help them get the freedom that they both desire. Bruno suggests that they switch murder victims – Haines murders Bruno’s father while Bruno kills Guy’s wife. But whether it all goes to plan is another matter.
There is no denying the stylish appeal of Anthony Banks’ sharply executed production, with David Woodhead’s split sectioned set perfectly framing all of the scenes and different locations – despite at times it becoming difficult to see everything (depending on where you sit).
There are several clever moments in which the set is used to great effect – including when Bruno and Haines are talking on the phone to each other about the plan, requiring the look of two different sets at one time.
But it has to be said the main problem with the production is Warner’s occasionally clunky adaptation – which is smart and pacy during the first act, keeping the audience fully engaged throughout, but during the second it feels slight in action and intensity that loses the audience’s attention, until the thrilling climax in which it is not clear just who is going to lose the most.
The dialogue can also come across as slightly too blunt in places including when Anne tells Guy about the death of his wife – the way in which it is worded doesn’t quite fit in with how the character would react.
In his production, Banks concentrates more on the guilt, grief and eventual redemption of the characters, rather than a pure open and shut case. Through his cast he really shows the torment and anger of the characters at the heart of the story. This is of course also down to the structure of Patricia Highsmith’s original novel – which Warner has for the most part stuck faithfully to.
Performance wise, it is a strong and capable cast who manage to draw the audience into the story effectively. In particular Chris Harper as the neurotic Charles Bruno really showcases the character’s many different personality elements- which verge from the obsessive to the cold and calculating to pure manipulativeness that works extremely well. His energy and presence as he dashes and dances across the stage is mesmerising to watch, particularly during the scenes leading up to the murders .Jack Ashton as Guy Haines gives a raw and completely engaging performance, highlighting the character’s mental breakdown as his feelings of guilt threaten to overwhelm him – utterly convincing.
For those who like their thrillers with a massive twist, you won’t want to miss this – despite the slightly clunkiness of the adaptation it has plenty to keep the audience gripped from beginning to end.