Strangers On A Train At York Grand Opera House
Andrew Liddle, Features Writer
This Strangers On A Train does not in any sense doff its cap to Hitchcock. The great cinema director’s classic 1951 version was a sanitised, opened-out version of the book, a taut and creepy thriller, making exquisite use of dramatic set pieces (the tennis match, the fairground, the Magic Isle murder), seen through Raymond Burks’s perspicacious lens.
Craig Warner's play, however, has turned Patricia Highsmith’s novel into a harrowing work of American drama, something almost putting us through the third degree of one of Tennessee Williams’s psychological masterpieces.
This is a beautiful production in every sense, stage-crafted to perfection and with a first-rate cast, directed with understated aplomb by Anthony Banks.
The ingenious set, designed by David Woodhead, using a split screen and a strong element of video projection, propels us on the fateful train journey, thence seamlessly to a variety of bars, offices, bedrooms and apartments, in a series of short, fast tension-filled scenes.
Charles Bruno, repressed, alcoholic and mother-fixated, is the play’s raison d'être, the strangest of strangers one might ever meet. Chris Harper, giggling at times like a deranged adolescent and ever ready to camp it up with a Shirley Temple shuffle here or a Cagney caper there, captures to a nicety the admixture of self-pity and mordacity warring within his torture soul. Hell-bent on manipulation, he finds his ideal sap in Plato-reading Guy Haines (an architect, by the way, and not Hitchcock’s dashing tennis player).
Jack Ashton is as equally sure-footed in the submissive role as when donning the stock to play the Reverend Tom Hereward in Call The Midwife. He makes believable the scarcely credible: that a good man – an idealist, in many ways - could so easily be cajoled, blackmailed and psychologically tortured into committing a crime that will precipitate him into the very heart of the human vortex. For the sake of the few who have not seen the film, it is best perhaps not to give any more away.
There are excellent performances, too, from John Middleton as the remorseless private eye, Arthur Gerard, who somehow unmasks the truth – but what will he do with it? – and from Hannah Tointon as the lovely Anne, who thought she was marrying an up-and-coming architect and discovered she’d landed herself a broken man with a dark secret.
We come away not a little cathartic. The tension has been high and sustained throughout and when it is released, in a surprising way, we gasp inwardly, feeling drained yet satisfied. Yes, this from the pen of Craig Warner is much more than an adaptation of a novel. It is high drama in its own right.
Strangers On A Train is running at the Grand Opera House from 5th to 10th March.
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Strangers On A Train At York Grand Opera House, 6th March 2018, 14:16 PM