I recently was pleased to be able to catch the West End version of Strangers on a train before its run ended on Feb 22nd. I’d heard a few reports from it but not much about it, so it was good to see it with an open mind and minimal knowledge.
Probably best known as a film by thriller maestro Alfred Hitchcock, Strangers on a train started life as a novel by Patricia Highsmith. This adaptation is by Craig Warner and although it was entirely new to me, there was a definite movie feel about the production.
Jack Huston stars as the incredibly creepy Charles Bruno, a man with plenty of money and no sense of personal space. From the outset it is clear he has homosexual preferences and takes an instant liking to Guy Haines (Laurence Fox), an architect who has become the local laughing stock after his wife Miriam (Myanna Buring) has had a string of affairs.
After an initial meeting in a train carriage and then being persuaded to take a drink in Charles’ room, Guy reveals to Charles that he now has another girlfriend and that Miriam is making a divorce difficult for him. Charles then announces that he wants his father dead. And from there is the plot – Charles’ idea. Two strangers, two murders and neither seemingly connected.
Quite soon after their meeting, Charles strangles Miriam. Guy, who is now with Anne – his girlfriend (Miranda Raison), hears the news and begins to worry and is questioned by the police. He was never planning to go through with the murder of Bruno Senior and is upset wirh the events.
Charles, however, begins to send letter after letter to Guy. He turns up everywhere, always uninvited and unwelcome, including an appearance at Guy and Anne’s wedding. Letters are also sent to Guy’s family, colleagues and friends. The mental torment for Guy is unbearable so he commits the crime in the hope of being left alone, but sadly things don’t stop there.
The play is cleverly done. Entirely in shades of black, white and grey, the costumes and set look extremely effective. The use of a turntable divided into three also means there are multiple sets but the changes are done simply by moving the round to the next third, making everything nicely slick. The use of background music to set both the period and the tone of the show and of black and white projections all help to create a movie-like and interesting piece. I thought the use of the cast to create tableaus while the man action went on in the foreground worked exceptionally well, apart from the occasional blink they could have been mannequins.
The most disappointing part for me was the end. Tension had been built nicely throughout act one and during act two I wanted nothing more than for Charles to die. Even his mother (Imogen Stubbs) who had a strange, seemingly incestuous relationship with her son, didn’t want to know him. But the final scenes, after a fantastic performance from the cast, were a bit of an anti-climax and appeared a bit hurried.
Nonetheless I enjoyed it very much, especially Huston’s somewhat deluded and rather scary character which was faultless. It is a shame that a talented cast such as these have had a short run but if you get the chance to see any of them perform in the future then I highly recommend them.