Strangers on a Train at the Gielgud Theatre
Based on the 1950s novel by Patricia Highsmith and highly influenced by Alfred Hitchcock’s adaptation (despite the director not receiving a mention in the show’s credits), Strangers on a Train is the suspenseful story of two men who become involved in a murder plot after meeting on said train.
From the outset the tone is ominous with dark shadows and little colour – a nod to Hitchcock and his infamous monochromatic thrillers. But what is promised in visual tension, via the seamless – and seemingly endless – revolving stage and perfectly linked projection and sound design, is not made good by the unravelling drama.
The character Bruno (Jack Huston) is initially dislikeable due to his slightly manic arm gestures and propensity to invade the personal space of strangers, but it is soon clear that Bruno provides the only genuine intrigue in the whole production. His family life is weird; the oedipal chemistry between Bruno and his mother Elsie is both uncomfortable and undeniably riveting. The actors’ well-developed relationship sheds light on why Bruno is how he is and encourages empathy that the audience might otherwise lack.
One could be forgiven for thinking that Guy, played by Laurence Fox – star of TV drama Lewis, might have been the character on which to focus empathy on. After all, he should be. He is the unwilling victim of Bruno’s ill-hatched, obsessive plans and yet it remains impossible to like him or even side with him. Although he’s not entirely to blame – noir fanatic director Robert Allan Ackerman’s input on acting style can be felt – this lack of audience rapport with Guy is Fox’s doing. His stripped-back performance is so stiff that there is almost no emotion, and little to no physicality. One might even think Fox would much rather be doing something else.
Helping Bruno to carry the production is Elsie, played by Imogen Stubbs who recently performed as Stella Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire. Stubbs shows that she is the epitome of Southern-Belle-turned-vain-and-unstable-mother. Her forced bark of a theatrical stage voice should be grating but it’s much too good to be and utterly conveys the desperate shroud of vanity the character is clinging to – despite losing her looks as well as love from her husband and her ageing son.
The set, sound and projection designs are hands down the best things about this production. It’s a shame Fox couldn’t muster more enthusiasm for it.
Strangers on a Train is at the Gielgud Theatre until 22nd February 2014. For further information or to book visit the show’s website here.