Patricia Highsmith's first classic novel has all the ingredients of a Hitchcock film, the double crossing, the finely tuned character studies and an air of homo eroticism. No surprise then that it was adapted into a film directed by the great man himself in 1951. Director Robin Herford is very brave to take this project on as most of the audience on the night I went clearly knew the plot inside out.
Craig Warner's adaptation began life as a radio play and closely follows the story known by movie lovers. Two strangers meet on a train and discuss the perfect murder. This begins life as a playful proposition but it is clear that one of the men wants to carry out the dastardly deed, leaving the more jovial partner in a deadly position. A classic game of cat and mouse ensues as this meeting and its consequences starts to affect their everyday lives.
All the ingredients for a great stage thriller, you may think. You would be half right as there is a great deal to recommend about this play. The performances are all above adequate and not that over the top. Alex Ferns in particular steals most of the honours. His Charles Bruno is eerily convincing and he does bring the static scenes to life whenever he is on stage. Will Thorp makes a good opposite for Ferns to bounce off. He conveys his character's nightmarish life brilliantly.
Leah Bracknell puts the awful Gaslight behind her and rises above the material this time around as Thorp's partner. Anita Harris tends to ham it up a little as Bruno's overbearing mother but it suits the production. Colin Baker provides the audience with a clue solver as Arthur Gerard. He seems to clearly revel in being the bringer of bad tidings to Ferns’ Bruno.
It’s a shame then that the pace of the play is not that tight, with some set changes only occurring so that a character can walk across the stage and off again. Jack Thompson’s stark lighting is annoying as often you cannot see.
Likewise Michael Holt’s modern clumsy set detracts from the tension rather than creating it.
However, as deeply old fashioned as it is there is something quaint about this production, and as a genre piece it works. Committed performances ultimately lift the play out of the darkness.