Made famous by the Hitchcock movie, when two complete strangers meet on a train, both of their lives change forever. Craig Warner’s adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel Strangers On A Train brings mystery and suspense to the old-fashioned thriller.
With a striking set design, it is intricately designed to open and close on different areas. Set as a huge box, sections are revealed to create either the bedroom, train, or front porch. Designer David Woodhead has excelled in his inventive design that moves each scene along swiftly and the way each area of the space is constantly changes creates an air of uncertainty.
Taking on the roles of the two leading men, Jack Ashton plays the cool and suave architect Guy Haines and Chris Harper takes on the eccentric Charles Bruno. After Charles convinces Guy to perform murders for each other, Bruno kills Haines’ unfaithful wife and Haines kills Bruno’s despised father, as no one would ever make the connection between the two of them.
Bruno is quick to perform his murder, but Haines isn’t convinced and holds back until Bruno starts regularly harassing him on the phone and through the post. Eventually, Haines holds up his end of the bargain but Bruno becomes obsessive and won’t leave Haines alone, causing much distress for them both.
Jack Ashton has a strong stage presence and his portrayal of Guy is well performed as we become invested in the life of Guy Haines when apprehension takes over. Chris Harper’s take on the psychopathic heavy drinker Charles Bruno is executed well but Harper takes it slightly too far and the character loses its intensity as he appears comedic. Their relationship is interesting to watch and has moments that draw you in, but it feels as if you are just constantly going around in circles as the plot fails to thicken in the second act.
Bruno’s bizarre relationship with his mother adds to the unnecessary comedy in the performance which I am sure isn’t intended. Similarly, Haines’ new wife Anne Faulkner played by Hannah Tointon delivers her lines rather ridiculously over the top, making the performance feel like a parody.
The first act is intriguing and the introduction to each character sparks an engaging opening. The production loses pace at times but Anthony Banks’ direction ensures clarity in the narrative.
Strangers On A Train is a production with immense potential that provides a mixture of performances enhanced by an innovative and visually engaging set.
On at the Manchester Opera House until the 10th of February before continuing on tour, tickets and information can be found here.