When two men meet by chance on a train journey, little do they know the impact this life-changing encounter will have. As they relax into their journey, the drinks begin to flow and stories of their lives are shared. As hopes, dreams and life’s troubles are discussed an idea emerges which will have an untold impact on both their lives.
Based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith which was adapted for the cinema by Alfred Hitchcock in 1951, Craig Warner’s Strangers on a Train is a sinister tale of persuasion. Smiling psychopath Charles Bruno (Chris Harper) charms architect Guy Haines (Jack Ashton) into revealing his innermost thoughts then hatches a plan to commit what he thinks are the perfect murders, clever and calculated in a way the truth could never be uncovered. Of course something as dark as murder could never be so simple, the plan quickly begins to unravel & suffocate Guy as a manipulative and unhinged Charles becomes ever-present and looms large in all aspects of Guy’s life.
Chris Harper and Jack Ashton are entirely convincing in their individual roles. Harper is commanding and brash as Charles, obnoxious, obsessive and chillingly intense, he perfectly embodies a man on the edge of madness. Perfectly paired with Ashton’s calm and relaxed presence which becomes increasingly strained as the horror off his characters situation takes over, pushed past the point of no return by a tormentor he barely knows, he takes on the role of cornered victim well, keeping up appearances believably whilst battling with an increasingly manic oppressor.
While both leads and the ensemble deliver strong performances the pace of the play lets the production down, leaving a feeling that a good chunk could have been edited in order to allow the chilling tension the cast are so clearly capable of delivering to florish.
David Woodhead’s set while wonderfully intricate with sliding panels revealling hidden rooms at times muffles conversations & in several scenes blocks cast members from view for audience members sitting anything but bang central.
While some scenes are drawn out others feel rushed, with only fleeting appearances from Helen Anderson and John Middleton as Helen Anderson and Arthur Gerrard, both are excellent and draw attention each time they are on stage.
While there are some excellent performances which hold your attention for the duration of the production, the promised chill is never quite felt. Trimmed down this could be an excellent and gripping piece of drama.
On at the Opera House until Saturday 10th February tickets available here.