“My theory is that everyone is a potential murderer”
Despite never having seen or read Strangers on a Train, I seemed to carry a strong idea of what the plot would entail. So of course I was disappointed to find out that the play wasn’t actually about two men deciding to kill each other’s wives on a long journey on the rails and that the action actually left the train carriage pretty early on. Expectations aside, I was also a little surprised at just how cinematic Robert Allan Ackerman’s production was, a veritable film noir brought to life in all its tense monochrome glory.
But for all the gloss that Tim Goodchild’s ever-revolving set and Peter Wilms’ frequent projections bring, there’s a curious lack of effective theatricality to Craig Warner’s adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel. The fateful initial meeting between Laurence Fox’s Guy and Jack Huston’s Bruno is charged with homoerotic tension as the latter teasingly offers to kill the former’s unloved wife if he will reciprocate by offing his overbearing father. Yet this isn’t something that is played out in the psychodrama that follows, exploring the effects on each man of perpetrating their crimes.
Indeed, we’re offered very little reason to empathise with either of them, neither is presented in a likeable light but neither actor really makes a convincing case that their emotional turmoil is something we ought to engage with. Fox’s stilted Englishness feels uncomfortably awkward throughout and though Huston is better as the free-wheeling Bruno, their story just doesn’t rouse anything beneath the surface. That the show has to rely so greatly on the volume of Avgoustous Psillas’ sound design to get its shocks is symptomatic of its inherent heavy-handedness.
Supporting roles offer a little light relief – Imogen Stubbs’ vampish mother, Miranda Raison’s glacial femme fatale, Christian Kay’s intrepid PI – but the bloating running time sees diminishing returns as the melodrama increases, especially as the interminable second half crawls to its dénouement. I would warrant that Strangers on a Train has solid enough credentials to ensure that it will be enough of a success but on this evidence, it is hard to suggest that it is that welcome an addition to the West End.