David Benedict on theatre

Tawdry and torrid, Once You Kiss A Stranger sounds like the title of a lurid paperback loitering on the 10p rack outside the scruffiest of secondhand bookshops. Actually, it's a justly neglected film from 1969, loosely based on the first novel by the American suspense-writer, the late Patricia Highsmith (right). The producer, presumably wishing to use the plot without paying for the rights, jettisoned her original title. Eighteen years earlier, Hitchcock had kept the title and Strangers on a Train is one of his finest films.

Prepared in part with Raymond Chandler, (they did not see eye to eye) the script has moments which transcend its literary background. The murder of a woman reflected in the victim's fallen glasses; the gripping cross- cut suspense sequence of the hero struggling to complete a tennis match in order to stop the villain, whom we see trying to retrieve incriminating evidence, or the final chase aboard the merry-go-round whirling out of control at the film's spectacular climax. Not something that suggests the phrase "stage-adaptation", but that hasn't deterred Jeremy Raison, artistic director of the Chester Gateway, who was looking for a classy thriller, couldn't get the rights to Double Indemnity (which crops up at Theatr Clwyd later this year), and came across Craig Warner's highly regarded radio adaptation broadcast earlier this year.

Happily, Warner has completely reconceived the adaptation for the stage. As Raison explains: "It's much closer to the novel, a typically Highsmith tale of suburban man caught up in a maelstrom. Much of the film is invented by Hitchcock and it's more simplistic than the book, which is more psychological - with both men implicated in murder." With another Highsmith pencilled in at Watford's Palace Theatre, in a new adaptation by Phyllis Nagy, this may be Highsmith's year.

`Strangers on A Train' is in preview at the Chester Gateway (01244-340392).

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