Craig Warner's Strangers on a Train opens at Gielgud
Adapted for the stage by Craig Warner, ''Strangers on a Train'' opened last night at the Gielgud Theatre. This psychological thriller stars Laurence Fox, Jack Huston and Miranda Raison and runs until 22 February 2014
...Patricia Highsmith's first novel, an acrid psychodrama with a strong homoerotic undertow, was turned into a brilliant, melodramatic film noir by Alfred Hitchcock. Craig Warner's new stage version, directed by Robert Allan Ackerman, tries to have the best of both worlds, falling down badly in the middle... the second act becomes a study in gathering guilt; but without the bare knuckle ride of Hitchcock's climactic chase, the incriminating cigarette lighter and the crazy carousel nightmare... Laurence Fox as Guy does his level best to maintain a tortured decency but struggles to remain interesting over two hours, while Jack Huston's brashly confident Charles Bruno swaggers superficially from scene to scene with none of the sinister charm or deviousness of Robert Walker in the movie... Warner doesn't apply enough clarity to the process of disintegration, or the plot twists, to make a satisfactory dramatic blend of these elements...
...The adaptor, Craig Warner, has reworked the material by going back to Patricia Highsmith's 1950 novel, which is in certain crucial respects very different, and by adding elements of his own... The ingenious basic premise remains sacrosanct... There's coded homosexuality in the movie where Robert Walker's brilliantly insidious Bruno is like Guy's diabolical alter ego. Here the gay dimension is more spelt out... Jack Huston is excellent as Bruno – the surface manner of the moustachioed, self-amusedly perverse playboy who despises mediocrity concealing less and less the disturbed, whisky-sodden neediness of his infatuation with Guy... The palette of the production – designed by Tim Goodchild and costumed by Dona Granata – is black, white and gray, as in an old movie, with Bruno's odd-man-out isolation highlighted by costumes that are like a photographic negative of the norm... The adaptation is impressive, on its own terms, and I applaud Warner for taking the emotional logic of the pact to a climactic extreme...
...Robert Allan Ackerman's production is stylish yet feels under-powered. There is a lot of exposition but not much tension and for all the black-and-white aesthetics the atmosphere never seems sufficiently nourish... Huston does a good job of conveying Bruno's manic excesses. Fox plays the more contemplative Guy with deliberate restraint. The character is a nerd and Fox captures this well... Yet mostly it feels as if the star of the show is Tim Goodchild's ingenious revolving design. And ultimately its complexity does not aid the clarity of the storytelling... There are elaborate projections by Peter Wilms but the cinematic approach leaves one wondering whether it wouldn't be more absorbing (and a lot cheaper) to stay at home with a DVD of Hitchcock's film...
...The bizarre fact about this production, although based on the 1949 Patricia Highsmith novel rather than the subsequent Hitchcock movie, is that it feels, for much of the evening, like a piece of film noir. This is theatre turning into cinema rather than borrowing from it... Everything about the first half suggests we are in for a night at the movies. We get multiple short scenes... Craig Warner has written the script. It felt sometimes as if it was more the work of Warner Brothers... The whole thing is staged with hyper-efficiency by Robert Allan Ackerman and there are some striking visual effects: not least the reduction of the surrounding characters to frozen dummies whenever Guy and Bruno are involved in an intimate tete-a-tete... Although the show looks good, the acting is a more mixed bag... But the best performances come in subsidiary roles. Imogen Stubbs turns Bruno's mother into a shameless, quasi-incestuous vamp with a husky voice that suggests she gargles each morning in gin... I just worry that commercial plays, like musicals, are becoming ever more parasitically dependent on the box-office pull of existing novels and films. Or even, as here, turning into a strange hybrid...
...This flesh-creeper, this toe-curler, this spine-snapper of a stalker tale has some of the fastest, cleverest set changes ever attempted... Add train interiors, a country house, a New York office, a dingy flat, and more – plus a blaze. Technical brilliance... The plot, and its telling here, is as noir as a triple espresso. Talented young architect bumps into rich boozer on train. Accepts a drink. And his life is never the same... Jack Huston makes rich, drunken Bruno a stammering charmer, his convivial plausibility unravelling just as slowly as his slicked, black curls... Laurence Fox is maybe slightly less successful as architect Guy – with that Anthony Blunt face and that muffled voice, it is hard to buy him as a Fifties American thruster... No Christmas ghost story will be quite as chilling (or gripping) as this nightmare. It doesn't half bear out the value of that old-fashioned English rule: beware talking to strangers on public transport...