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A CurtainUp London Review
Strangers on a Train
Craig Warner's adaptation of the 1951 Hitchcock film is not actually that, but goes back initially to the original plot of Patricia Highsmith's novel. Guy Haines (Laurence Fox) in the book is an architect not a tennis player. He is travelling on a train to Metcalf to negotiate an early divorce from his unfaithful and socially embarrassing wife Miriam (Myanna Buring). He is approached by Charles Bruno (Jack Huston) who appears to be wealthy and is particularly persistent in asking Guy to join him for dinner in his carriage. Over a few glasses of whisky, Bruno tells Guy of the difficulties with his father and Guy discloses his unhappy marriage and the negative impact his wife is having on his career. Bruno proposes the perfect murder; that they should murder the problem relative for each other on the basis that they would have alibis and no connection could be made between the murderers and the victims. Guy takes Bruno's proposal as light hearted banter until he learns that . . . . . .
I won't give any spoilers except to say that in this version, as we see more of him, at home with his mother (Imogen Stubbs), we are convinced that Bruno is an obsessive, and his homoerotic advances on Guy become the psychologically thrilling part of the play. That and guilt of course! Guy is free to marry the lovely Anne, daughter of a senator but it comes at a price. Instead of Miriam pulling him down he has Guy intruding into his life. This is like having a stalker who knows your worst secret.
Jack Huston gives an excellent performance as the unhinged and brittle Bruno, his insecurities very near the surface which contrasts nicely with Laurence Fox's internalising, seething and despondent architect. Even the tall, lanky Fox's lapses into the English accent work well as his character conveys the uptightness associated with the upper middle class Englishman. This is a very peopled production and when you might think the actors on stage are alone, you will have mysterious glimpses of others in the corner of the stage or seated at a bar or behind a mirror. We feel Hitchcock himself would have enjoyed these oblique references to his appearances in his famous films.
Christian McKay is dogged as the amateur sleuth who starts to figure things out. The talented Miranda Raison plays Anne, Guy's trusting and beautiful wife and Imogen Stubbs reprises her drunken Gertrude scene as his doting mother Elsie, showing some of Bruno's unstable genes in her opulent Texan bedroom with Longhorn cattle skulls decorating the full length mirrors. There are parallels here with Hamlet.
The projected period cityscapes add fine filmic atmosphere and the black and white wedding would do justice to Cecil Beaton's Oscar winning Ascot designs in My Fair Lady. Even in the scenes in the home in the forest, projected white leaves against a black sky, flutter in the breeze. Such is the attention to moody detail that it seems even the blackmail of the plot is monochrome! My companion asked whether they were allowed to set the stage on fire; the pyrotechnics are impressive and look dangerous. There is a fairground scene with gallopers, all in black and white. The revolving set seamlessly changes scenarios to a very high standard. We know there is an ongoing audience demand for crime genre plays with the success of The Mousetrap and An Inspector Calls but in Strangers on a Train the audience will experience and be immersed in state of the art design.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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