Everyone loves a good thriller and judging by the packed house at Cardiff’s New Theatre for the opening night of Craig Warner’s adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on A Train on Tuesday evening, Wales audiences are no exception.
The gripping thriller, set in the early 1950s, follows an encounter between two men in the dining carriage of a train crossing America. Guy Haines, an architect crosses paths with a calculating chancer, Charles Bruno. The pair seemingly have little in common when their conversation begins, but as the journey progresses, they both find they have binds that tie them from pursuing their dreams. In Haines case, its his wife, preventing him from been with his new lover, while Bruno’s predicament hangs on the death of his father in order for him to get his inheritance.
Haines and Bruno’s conversation leads to the possibility of ridding each other of their problems by murdering those who stand in their way. As they are perfect strangers, they have the perfect crime. Haines dismisses the conversation until Bruno fulfills his side of the deal and then the drama really begins.
Although based directly on Patricia Highsmith’s book, rather than Alfred Hitchcock’s film adaptation, Strangers On A Train retains all the hallmarks of a masterful and gripping thriller.
Jack Ashton and Chris Harper lead the cast as Guy Haines and Charles Bruno respectively. Haines character is frequently at odds with the deal he has made with Bruno and Ashton paces the underlining tensions and stress his character faces throughout the production perfectly.
Harper delivers a fabulously psychotic and energetic portrayal of Bruno, a character that is funny at first glance but deeply troubled beyond the actions his character commits. Both Haines and Bruno’s uneasy relationship makes strong drama from uneasy confrontations to static powered phone calls and helps inject an element of film noir into the process. Harper’s character also becomes more unstable as the story unfolds and is a joy to watch as the character battles his inner demons.
Hannah Tointon is Haines lover and eventual wife, Anne Faulkner. Despite first appearances as the lead characters “other woman”, Anne proves herself a strong and supportive character and Tointon brings class, sophistication and reality to the role which enables Anne to become the unwitting heroine of the piece.
John Middleton is fabulously cast as Detective Arthur Gerard and although he only appears in the second half, covers a lot of ground quickly.. Gerard doesn’t take long to work out the perfect crime but once he delivers his verdict of events to Harper’s Bruno, the story takes a delightful twist that helps the tale reach its climatic conclusion.
Special mention must also go to the strong support from Helen Anderson as Bruno’s doting mother, Sandy Batchelor as Frank Myers and Owen Findlay as Robert Treacher. All three play larger than life roles that introduce well paced lighter to a story which has lots of dark overtones.
The productions other star is its set, a magical mechanical box that rolls back panels to reveal, train carriages. bars, bedsits and luxury homes allowing the characters to move freely from scene to scene. Its trick right at the drama’s climax is the box magically unfolds to reveal a railway yard that adds to the desperation and desolation of the stories outcome.
Adding to the atmosphere are period music, costumes and atmospheric lighting which at given points add to the tension of the story, drawing the audience in completely.
The final moments of the play certainly made the hairs on my back stand on end and I would say Strangers On A Train is certainly a production to see if you enjoy a good old-fashioned thriller.
The UK tour ends its run in Cardiff on March 31, so don’t miss out on an edge of your seat treat!