Based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1950 novel (followed in 1951 by the radically adapted Alfred Hitchcock film version) Craig Warner (writer) and Robert Allan Ackerman (director) have returned to Highsmith’s original source material for this stage version of Strangers on a Train at the Gielgud Theatre in London.
After a chance meeting on a train, up and coming young architect Guy Haines (Laurence Fox) and flamboyant playboy Charles Bruno (Jack Huston) make an unlikely bargain which will change both of their lives forever.
Haines, saddled with a promiscuous wife from a disastrous teenage marriage and pursuing a new love, in the form of a high society heiress, meets Charles Bruno, Bruno, directionless and in want of his expected inheritance from his much-hated father, hits upon the perfect solution to their woes. Each will rid the other of their ‘problem’.
Charles carries out his side of the ‘bargain’ but Guy begins to lose his resolve, resulting in a terrifying level of psychological pressure from the increasingly unstable Charles, culminating in a suspenseful and shocking denouement.
Tim Goodchild’s ingenious revolving set is a star in itself, rendered entirely in black and white and shades of grey, complemented by projections and an atmospheric Hitchcock-like soundtrack, it is stunning, moving swiftly between a mind-boggling amount of changes.
Huston is superb as Bruno, charming and chilling in equal measure, he appears entirely at home on stage. His increasingly claustrophobic and unhinged portrayal is fascinating with its minutely detailed mannerisms and the uncomfortable, almost incestuous relationship with his fading southern belle mother (Imogen Stubbs, giving her best Tennessee Williams) is grippingly played. Fox is marginally less convincing but his geeky, uptight Guy comes into his own in the second act as he increasingly loses control of his life.
The undercurrent of homosexuality, only hinted at in the novel is played up to good effect here. Suspenseful throughout with some nerve-shredding moments, there’s much black humour in this noir production. Fast-paced and visually striking and with a genuinely unexpected and shocking final scene, this filmic production is a welcome addition to the West End. There’s a need for more classy and mature thrillers onstage, as evidenced by the packed house here – producers take note.