Two strangers meet by chance on a train heading to the West Coast. One man, Charles Bruno, is charming, funny and gregarious, the other, Guy Haines, is more guarded and private. But through a haze of alcohol, they pass the train journey talking, eventually getting to discussing the bane of their lives, that is, Charlie’s father and Guy’s estranged wife. Charlie hits on an idea, if they killed each other’s problems, there would be no way to link it back to them. They clink glasses in agreement, a pipe dream that would solve all their problems, but is just a fantasy. But, unknown to Guy, Charlie is a sociapath who really does kill his ex wife, and then demands that Guy keeps his part of the deal. If not, he will destroy everything he holds dear – his relationship with new love Anne, his career, his whole life.
This is the famous premise of ‘Strangers On A Train’, the classic thriller from Ann Highsmith that was made into an iconic movie by the master Alfred Hitchcock and has now been recreated to stunning effect at the New Alex Theatre. A thrilller/morality play with little or no morality, Strangers on a Train is a thrilling theatre experience that keeps you on the edge of your seat and yet shows little to no violence at all. Such is the power of the script and the central performances.
In the lead role as Charles, Chris Harper is delicious. Chilling, at times hilarious, but always with an edge of maniacal menace, Harper gets it just right. He is mesmerising when he is on stage, stealing every scene with a standout performance. You literally cannot take your eyes off him as he dances and giggles and then shocks you with his change of mood, his coldness and sheer insanity. He is matched by Jack Ashton as Guy, who portrays a man literally falling apart before your eyes. His sheer desperation is best summed up in the scene where he finally agrees to do the murder, it is a portrait of a broken man who has lost all hope and is super powerful. Chris Harper may have the showier role, but the balance is provided by Ashton, and they work very well together.
The supporting cast is strong. Hannah Tointon is Anne, and plays her as an enigma, a seemingly idealistic, supportive partner, who may also be able to ignore murder. Her scenes with Harper sizzle with tension, you genuinely think he is going to kill her at any minute. Tointon brings charm and lightness to the role, whereas the other female lead, Helen Anderson adds to the warped sense of darkness that surrounds Bruno. As his mother Elsie, she is elegant and glamorous and totally feeds our idea that Bruno is a mother obsessive. In the scene where she uncovers his crimes, the uneasy depiction of Bruno in an almost fetal position is both striking and uncomfortable.
Rounding out the cast is Emmerdale star John Middleton, playing a private detective who knows that Bruno is somehow involved with the death of his father. He plays the role with an air of calm, another perfect foil for Harper, and works out all the angles with assurance adding depth to what could be a thankless role.
Strangers on a Train is wonderfully atmospheric, and despite being set in the 50s, is very ,modern in terms of the real lack of morality that is shown. Building tension throughout the play, it ends with a satisfying denouement that leaves you with many questions as you leave the theatre.
Strangers on a Train
New Alexandra Theatre
Tuesday 20th – Saturday 3rd February
Click here for ticket information