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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Gielgud


  Laurence Fox and Jack Huston/ Ph: Brinkhoff and Mogenburg

The challenge of turning Patricia Highsmith's novel Strangers on a Train into a theatre piece is justifiable only if its inspiration is the original source material rather than Alfred Hithcock's celebrated 1951 screen version. Which, in this case, it is. Not that writer Craig Warner and director Robert Allan Ackerman have entirely turned their backs on the Hitchcock film. The murderous fun-fair sequence is retained (though not as effectively), and so, of course, is the famous opening that sets the ingenious plot in motion.

Two strangers, you'll recall, meet on a train, one of whom – a playboy called Charles Bruno (Jack Huston) – tries to convince the other, Guy Haines (Laurence Fox), of how easy it would be to commit the perfect murder.

Gus, we learn, has an unfaithful wife, Miriam (Myanna Buring), who refuses to divorce him so that he can marry his girlfriend Anne (Miranda Raison). Bruno has an equally troublesome father who's withholding his inheritance. Charles offers to murder Miriam if Gus, reciprocally, agrees to murder Charles's father. What could be simpler? And apart from the fact that the murders would appear to be motiveless, each will provide the other with a fail-safe alibi.

Gus, a tennis player in the film but an architect in the novel and play, is mildly amused at the suggestion but doesn't for an instant take it seriously, whereas Charles, a wealthy, psychotic playboy-cum-charmer in the film but a mother-obsessed closet homosexual in the book and play, does. After murdering Miriam, he creepily insinuates himself into Gus and Anne's lives and threatens to implicate Gus if he refuses to murder his hated father.

It's more or less at this point that Warner abandons the Hitchcock film and, with a few twists and additions of his own, sticks closer to Highsmith's novel. The result is that the play is darker, more psychologically complex and disturbing than the film, with a homoerotic subtext in accordance with Highsmith's original intentions.

But what ultimately lets the production down is Laurence Fox's vapid, colourless performance as Guy. There's nothing attractive or appealing about the character; he's boring and uncommunicative from the moment we meet him. Nor is Fox capable of portraying any sexual confusion or allowing us to feel the corrosive effect his own ambiguity towards Charles, and the guilt he suffers, is having on him. As Charles, Huston comes closer to realising the alcohol-fuelled self-hatred at the heart of the man, but he lacks any hint of seductive charm or charisma.

On the distaff side, Imogen Stubbs, replete with an actorish Deep-South accent, brings a modicum of colour to a basically two-dimensional role. Mayanna Buring as Miriam isn't nearly as nasty as Highsmith intended, while Miranda Raison as Gus' second wife Anne fails to project a character of any kind and is, at times, barely audible.

Though the creative team has, in the main, been guided by the book rather than the film, the best element of the production is, ironically, the noirish black-and-white look of Tim Goodchild's cinematic, art deco revolving set and Peter Wilms' dramatic projection design.

If the performances were as striking as the sets, Strangers on a Train might, to quote a line from another famous black-and-white film of the period, have been a contender.


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