Theatre Review: Strangers on a Train at Woking’s New Victoria Theatre
- Credit: Archant
The popularity of edge-of-your-seat thrillers sees no sign of dwindling and so the UK theatre tour of Craig Warner’s adaption of Patricia Highsmith’s 1950 page-turner, Strangers on a Train, could not be more timely says Rebecca Younger
The popularity of edge-of-your-seat thrillers sees no sign of dwindling and so the UK theatre tour of Craig Warner’s adaption of Patricia Highsmith’s 1950 page-turner, Strangers on a Train, could not be more timely. However, its director Anthony Banks, who last year scored a commercial and critical hit with Gaslight, feels it’s a genre that will never go out of fashion, for two reasons.
“There’s a quick answer and a dark answer,” he says. “The quick answer is that people are inherently nosy. The dark answer is that we’re fascinated by the notions of right and wrong.”
Sticking closely to Highsmith’s debut novel rather than the 1951 Alfred Hitchcock film adaptation (which made substantial changes to the plot), the play is about two men who meet in the dining carriage of a train that’s crossing America.
As they get talking, successful businessman Guy Haines (played by Call the Midwife actor Jack Ashton) reveals he wants to divorce his wife so he can marry his mistress Anne Faulkner (played by Hannah Tointon of Hollyoaks and Mr Selfridge fame) while his rather eccentric travel companion, Charles Bruno, reveals that he hates his father because he controls the money Charles believes is rightly his.
Charles, (played by Christopher Harper, best known as Coronation Street’s sex ring leader Nathan Curtis) then comes up with a fiendishly inventive idea: he’ll kill Guy’s wife if Guy agrees to bump off his father. It is, Charles points out, the perfect double murder - because neither of them has an apparent motive.
The story explores a number of themes. Firstly, the light and darkness that’s in of all us; in the first scene Charles and Guy talk about the metaphor of human beings possessing both white horses and black horses and secondly the idea of instant chemistry. Sometimes we meet random people in random situations, like on a train, and you just click.
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Harper is undoubtedly the star of the show, playing psychopath Charles with tremendous audacity. He’s funny and crazy…and dark but in an intriguing rather than disconcerting way. It’s exactly how he reels Guy, whose angst is portrayed impeccably by Ashton, into his chilling plan.
Yet underneath it all is a scarred and very scared, somehow innocent boy, which is exposed during a scene in the second act, when an inconsolable Charles is comforted by his mother (played by Helen Anderson).
If you’re not already familiar with the story and are looking for a ‘who done it’ kind of thriller, Strangers on a Train (which also stars Emmerdale actor John Middleton as the private detective who uncovers the truth) is not. Nor is it light-hearted. Prepare for an intense evening of thought-provocation that may well leave you questioning the ideology of right and wrong.
Strangers on a train is at New Victoria Theatre, Woking until Saturday, February 17 and then at Richmond Theatre from Monday February 19 to Saturday February 24.