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Brief Encounter with... Strangers on a Train's Miranda Raison

Former ''Spooks'' star Miranda Raison, whose stage credits include ''The River'' (Royal Court), ''The Physicists'' (Donmar), ''Anne Boleyn'' and ''Henry VIII'' (Shakespeare's Globe), is currently appearing in ''Strangers on a Train'' at the Gielgud Theatre with Laurence Fox and Jack Huston

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Miranda Raison with Laurence Fox
© Brinkhoff & Mögenburg

Tell us about Strangers on a Train
Craig Warner's stage play is based much more on the Patricia Highsmith novel than it is on the film. The film is sort of the same story for the first half an hour, then it's completely different. It's two strangers who meet, one is slightly on the nutty side, and one is rather highly-strung, and one suggests to the other that they kill the person in each others' lives that is causing them the most trouble. The idea is that it would be untraceable as there is nothing to link them to each other. The nutty one suggests it, the sane one thinks it's a joke and it all kinds of unfolds from there.

Where do you fit into the story?
I play the fiancée of Laurence [Fox]'s character, Guy. The person Guy needs out of his life is his wife who won't divorce him. As things unfold I become more a part of his life. But also my character Anne has quite an interesting relationship with Bruno, Jack [Huston]'s character. It's kind of a funny dynamic.

Does the plot take a completely different turn to the film?
Yes it does, there is one difference which changes the direction of the whole thing. I obviously can't say too much about it but it's crucial; they obviously made the decision in the film not to do something that's done in the book.

Why do you think Craig chose to base it more on the novel than the film?
It's a brilliant novel - I thought that I'd better swot up and read it before I started, because I didn't want to get caught out, and it is amazing. She wrote The Talented Mr. Ripley as well, her characters are incredibly well-drawn. They are also quite vulnerable, in that kind of Crime and Punishment way: you feel their pain all the way through it. It's darker basically, and the suspense of it is really a much more intense experience. I love the film but it's is a lot more lightweight than the book.

Did Craig take any dialogue from the novel, or did he start from scratch?
There is definitely the feel of scenes that are in the book but it's very adapted. It's a difficult one, because obviously the novel is very much in the heads of the characters, so its really just that age old challenge of getting it off the page and onto the stage, which is not easy.

You mentioned that you'd read the book once you'd got on board, had you seen the film?
Yes, I love all things Hitchcock so I'd seen the film a couple of times, and watched it again even though I knew it was completely different from the play. It was good hearing the accents and getting the feel of the period.

Was your love of Hitchcock partly what drew you to the play?
Definitely, there wasn't even a theatre when I came on board. It was just ‘this is the script'. I love that period of American history as well; I think the whole thing just sounded so wonderful. Bob Ackerman is an amazing guy, and an amazing director. It was one of those emails that you get where you think ‘oh ok!' There was quite a lot in the email that was appetizing!

What's it like working with Bob Ackerman?
He's amazing; he's got that brilliant Brooklyn drawl, which I love. He's sort of straight-forward. We've had to do this really quickly, and Bob has got such a clear vision and such a clear way of talking to actors and being with us and he's very funny. So he just sort of says it, and you do it, and it's my favourite way of working. You do it by trying it rather than sitting round talking about it for the length of the Bible. A lot of the time a rehearsal process involves talking for two weeks before anybody does any acting and I find that quite difficult sometimes. I'll do it and be happy doing it but I think when you've got someone who walks into the room and is like ‘ok, let's just start', it's very cool. He's seen it all and done it all, he's like God!

Miranda Raison and Laurence Fox in Strangers on a Train
© Brinkhoff & Mögenburg

How long were you in rehearsals?
Well actually it was less than a month from the start of rehearsals to the first preview. The set is without question the most breathtaking thing I've ever seen in my life. All of us were just completely bowled over. It's a case now of we've got it, it's all in place, now we just need to get all the machinery working as quickly as possible, which I'm sure is why they've done it this way.

Can you tell us a bit more about the set?
There are a few specifics that I can't say but it's very film noir. They've done amazing things with lights and projection as well, and the sound design is brilliant. The whole thing comes together. There has been a lot of sweat backstage - stand in the right place or you will get squashed!

Have you worked with any of the other cast members before?
I've worked with Laurence before; I was the killer in the last ever Lewis. Bizarrely Jack and I are third cousins or something; we've got the same great-great-grandfather. I remember playing with Jack's older brother when I was little, so that was quite funny.

You sang in a couple of episodes of Doctor Who a few years ago; do you have any desire to do a musical?
I would love to. After Doctor Who came out, I got a call asking if I would be interested in playing Roxie in Chicago, and I had to say ‘oh no, I really can't sing like that!' My father is a jazz pianist professionally, and one of my brothers is a musician, and I've sung a bit with them before where you're singing very quietly or with a microphone and it's in a small space. Welly-ing out a tune in the West-End unfortunately I couldn't do. I wish I could, but it's never going to happen - unless I got the most powerful microphone in the world!

You've done a mixture of television and theatre work, do you have a preference?
I like mixing it up, and it may sound like a cliché but one does help you enjoy the other. Doing theatre has got to be all-hands-on-deck; everybody is kind of equal and everyone's in it together. Television, I love being part of, but it is a medium that encourages hierarchy and that sort of thing. The rewards of screen-work are great, because it pays very well and you get to do fantastic work with amazing people. It's a bit like having a really rock-n-roll friend and a really good steady friend you've known forever. The steady friend reminds you that actually you are nothing special and that you are only as good as what you're doing and to just keep putting one foot in front of the other. The other one now and again lets you feel like you are something. You've just got to keep the balance, or I do anyway.

What made you want to be an actress?
My mother was a newsreader in the 1980s and we lived in Norfolk, and I used to go to the studio with her when I was really small, sort of four/five. I loved it and it wasn't a case of I want to do what she does; it was just the whole thing. I always chased that, always wanted that buzz.

What's next?
We're doing Strangers on a Train until February, and then I play the new clerk for the chambers in the next series of Silk which comes out in January. Then I think there's a series that's happening at the beginning of March - I will keep you posted...

Strangers on a Train runs at the Gielgud Theatre until 22 February

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