Reviewed by Joanne Hughes
Strangers on the Train will be well-known to many from the famed Alfred Hitchcock film, however, it has a greater imprint on my memory from reading the original novel by Patricia Highsmith many years ago, and which was such a fabulous psychological thriller that I can remember it vividly still now. Thus, I was intrigued and excited to see how this sophisticated crime story would be adapted for the stage. Craig Warner’s play draws on the psychological elements of the novel and delivers an evening of gripping suspense and moral horror.
On the evening of my trip to the New Victoria Theatre in Woking to attend the show, it seemed that nature was itself setting a dramatic scene in preparation for the evening’s entertainment – it was a dark and terrifying night, the winds howled, and the rain continued to beat down on the windscreen. Luckily for us, there was no drama on our journey and we entered the theatre filled with the anticipation of an enjoyable evening ahead. The theatre is a very impressive building, and the auditorium is large, with very comfy seats and good views from all areas. There is a delightful pianist to entertain before and after the show, and during the intervals; together with several bars with a good variety of beverages and snacks available. A note to bear in mind is that this theatre adheres to theatre etiquette in terms of timings, thus the auditorium doors close promptly at the start of the show, and customers can only enter at certain set intervals during the performance.
The story starts with two strangers, Charles Bruno and Guy Haines, who, as the title suggests, meet on a train. As their journey progresses, and Bruno becomes more inebriated, they reveal to each other that each of them has a family member who’s an inconvenience to them – Haine’s unfaithful wife and Bruno’s much-loathed father. Bruno proposes, seemingly jokingly, that they commit the perfect murder – to each kill the other’s ‘inconvenience’ – nobody would suspect them, they would have no motive, a perfect alibi, and they would be perfect strangers. Haines leaves the train and seemingly forgets the conversation, until his wife is found dead, and his life changes forever. Charles Bruno, a psychopathic alcoholic, and repressed homosexual, proceeds to stalk, intimidate and blackmail Guy Haine’s, sending him step by step murder instructions with designs of the mansion where his father resides, persistently calling him at all hours, threatening to ruin his business and expose him to his fiancée, and even turning up at his wedding to the lovely Anne Faulkner. As Haines feel’s more and more trapped, he makes the decision to complete his side of the agreement, and murders Bruno’s father. After which, Arthur Gerard, former staff to Bruno’s father and ex-policeman, embarks on an investigation and figures out how the murders occurred. However, due to his respect for Bruno’s mother, he decides not to contact the police. During this time, Haines has written a letter to Anne to explain how and why he committed the crime, and in the parting scene of the play, Anne manages to save Haines from ruin.
Chris Harper’s performance cleverly portrayed an unhinged and menacing Bruno, though the disturbing relationship Bruno had with his mother was a little under-played. Jack Ashton rose to the challenge as a convincing innocent Guy Haine’s, though it seemed there was not enough on Haine’s gnawing guilt and psychological torment and the performance became a little stoic, so it was difficult at the end to comprehend why he’s finally driven to commit the murder. Hannah Tointon is a delight as Haines’s new woman Anne, concerned about her unhappy man, and John Middleton’s air of suspicion as Arthur Gerard is reflected in the audience. The clever set design comprises a series of sliding panels and projections which incorporates a train, Bruno’s mansion, Haine’s office and home in a single structure, and the use of smoke to create the tension at the end is creative.
All in all, an evening filled with intrigue and moral ambiguity which had the audience applauding loudly. A good night out for any fan of psychological thrillers.
Tickets cost from £18 to £40 (plus £2.85 transaction fee).
Strangers on a Train is at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking from 12-17 February 2018, for more information or to book tickets visit www.atgtickets.com/new-victoria-theatre or call the box office on 0844 871 7645.
New Victoria Theatre, The Ambassadors, Peacocks Centre, Woking, Surrey, GU21 6GQ