Strangers On A Train: Theatre review
Gielgud Theatre, London
Wednesday 20 November 2013
Fans of Hitchcock's superb 1951 movie are in for something of a surprise if they fetch up at this show expecting a close screen-to-stage transposition. The adaptor, Craig Warner, has reworked the material by going back to Patricia Highsmith's 1950 novel, which is in certain crucial respects very different, and by adding elements of his own. Robert Allan Ackerman's assured and fluid production is, nonetheless, “noir”-ish in an ostentatiously filmic fashion, as though it were intent on offering a night out at the theatre and a trip to the cinema combined.
The ingenious basic premise remains sacrosanct. In a seemingly chance meeting on a train, the pushy and insinuating Charles Bruno proposes a murder-swap to Guy Haines: he will bump off Guy's unfaithful wife, if Guy will agree to kill Bruno's hated father. Watertight alibis; no connection between murderer and victim – the perfect criss-cross crime. Except that when Bruno performs his side of what was never a real bargain, it exposes the appalled Guy to a nightmare of blackmail and stalking.
There's coded homosexuality in the movie where Robert Walker's brilliantly insidious Bruno is like Guy's diabolical alter ego. Here the gay dimension is more spelt out. Laurence Fox's disappointingly vapid and un-American-sounding Guy is first discovered reading Plato and is intrigued enough by this total stranger to join him in his private compartment. Jack Huston is excellent as Bruno – the surface manner of the moustachioed, self-amusedly perverse playboy who despises mediocrity concealing less and less the disturbed, whisky-sodden neediness of his infatuation with Guy. His near-incestuously possessive mother (wittily drawn by Imogen Stubbs) is not wrong to suspect that he has found someone new.
Spoiler alert: in this version, as in the novel, Guy is hounded into killing the father and there is a wonderfully queasy sequence here when, on the same fateful staircase, the aftermath of the deed morphs into the murderer's high-society wedding to Miranda Raison's elegant Anne. The segue horribly emphasises the unstable foundation for this happiness, as does Bruno's sudden sick-joke appearance as an uninvited guest – the first of his many attempts to form a third in their union. The palette of the production – designed by Tim Goodchild and costumed by Dona Granata – is black, white and gray, as in an old movie, with Bruno's odd-man-out isolation highlighted by costumes that are like a photographic negative of the norm.
Both halves open with footage of an onrushing train and the proceedings elapse seamlessly thanks to a revolve that works overtime as it whisks us from set to set and to Peter Wilms's splendid projections that can conjure up a fairground carousel or fireworks or give us the illusion that we are travelling through a landscape watched from a train window. But there's very little that properly suspenseful – and nothing to compare with the nerve-racking tennis match or Bruno's pervy pursuit of his prey in the movie. The adaptation is impressive, on its own terms, and I applaud Warner for taking the emotional logic of the pact to a climactic extreme. You may emerge though with your admiration for Hitchcock redoubled.
To 22 February; 0844 482 5130
tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods
tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 President of Argentina adopts Jewish godson to 'stop him turning into a werewolf'
- 2 ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns, aged 27
- 3 The 'Black Museum': After 150 years, public set to see exhibits from police’s grisly crime museum
- 4 AirAsia flight QZ8501 missing: Plane carrying 162 passengers from Indonesia to Singapore disappears over Java Sea
- 5 Naomi Wolf reacts to Isis 'conspiracy theories' critism after she questions whether beheading videos are real
Downton Abbey Christmas special 2014, review: Love is everywhere, actually
The golden age of TV comedy is here
The Boy in the Dress, TV review: David Walliams' Boxing Day treat is a celebration of being different
The Interview finally gets US release after Sony hack and terror threats – but reviews of North Korea satire are mixed
From Marvel to Star Wars: The rise of cinema’s shared universes
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Immigrants make UK racist, says Ukip councillor Trevor Shonk
Nigel Farage: Ukip leader named 'Briton of the year' by The Times
Millions of Britons struggling to feed themselves and facing malnourishment