Strangers on a Train is visually ravishing, intelligent and taut (4 stars)

Strangers on a Train

Style and substance in classy thriller starring Jack Ashton and Chris Harper

Sexual repression is a key ingredient of Patricia Highsmith's literary work, and none more so than her knotty debut psychological novel, Strangers on a Train, most famously adapted for film by Alfred Hitchcock in 1951.

Craig Warner's play is more bold: not just because of obvious themes more palatable to modern audiences, but because it's visually ravishing, intelligent and taut, with the dialogue driving the action.

When seemingly gullible architect Guy Haines (Jack Ashton) meets and bonds with dyspeptic, yet initially charming, Charles Bruno (Chris Harper) on a train, an uneasy alliance is formed, culminating in a pact where Bruno kills Haines' wife and Haines will off Bruno's father.

What unfolds is a battle of wills, as Haines, now with glamorous pregnant new wife Anne (Hannah Tointon) who wants to move on, only for Bruno to reappear, attempting to inveigle his way into their home. His unspoken desire for Haines manifests itself in a poisonous exchange between the two men, and the complicity in their arrangement is exposed through David Woodhead's superb set, which slides in all directions like a wooden Chinese puzzle. Particularly impressive is the moving staircase, which provides a dizzying vertiginous sensation akin to Bruno's perpetual drunken state.

Harper is absolutely superb, giving a mesmerizing performance as Bruno, veering from misogynistic and chilling to camp and pouty with one slug from his hip flask. There's strong support too from Helen Anderson as Bruno's steely glamorous mother who first indulges, then rejects, her son, and Ashton, who displays a fine line in tacit, crumpled contempt.

The whole is framed like Edward Hopper's painted nocturnal figures by way of Life magazine panels- a smouldering portrait of how unspoken lust can become a lethal trigger.

Strangers on a Train is currently touring.

Strangers on a Train

A stage adaptation of Highsmith's novel, made famous by Hitchcock's 1950 film.

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