Strangers on a Train** (Gielgud Theatre, 11 December 2013)

Posted: December 12, 2013 in Theatre

photo-87Adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s dark psychological thriller, Craig Warner’s play concerns the meeting of Guy, a promising architect and Bruno, a feckless rich playboy, on a journey through Texas. Guy’s life is being hampered by a troublesome wife and Bruno needs rid of his millionaire father, so the latter develops the idea that the two will swap murders meaning that, with no connection between killers and victims, detection would be impossible. Guy is always reluctant, but inevitably, the two become more and more entangled together, with increasingly sinister consequences. It needs to be stated that Robert Allan Ackerman’s’s production is quite brilliantly staged, with sets rapidly revolving to ensure a swift pace, lighting which picks out what we need to see but leaves the rest of the stage in creepy darkness and a spectacular, technically accomplished climax. At this performance, Antony Jardine, an understudy, played Bruno and was very effective in bringing out the menace in an immature and weak man in the grips of a doting, drunken mother. Sadly, Lawrence Fox, not an understudy, is feeble as Guy, capturing none of the magnetism that draws the other characters to him and failing to convince as a man tormented by guilt. The always reliable Imogen Stubbs relishes the role of the mother and the other performances are generally adequate, allowing for some dodgy American accents. Translating a plot-driven piece to theatre can often be tricky, but this production’s big failure is in showing us any reason why this story needed to be put on the stage at all. Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film varied much in detail from Highsmith’s original novel, but it was able to bring out the complex Freudian themes and even allude to the gay subtext, albeit restrained by the conventions of the 1950s. No longer subject to such constraints, this version fails abjectly to delve any deeper into the psychology or to develop most of the characters into much more than stereotypes. Therefore, we are left with plot, visual spectacle and little else, resulting in an experience that moves at lightning speed but is, at the same time, tedious and empty.

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