Based on the 1950s novel by Patricia Highsmith, Craig Warner has breathed new life into this classic story.
The Grand Opera House, York staged Strangers on a Train from the 5th – 10th March 2018 where the scenery also played a leading role in the production.
The play opens, as you might expect, in a train carriage. Guy Haines (Jack Ashton) is reading Socrates by Plato and is repeatedly interrupted by whisky-swilling Charles Bruno (Chris Harper). Both the book and hip flask play important roles too. Bruno's (bottomless) hip flask keeps the strangers topped up and Architect, Haines, tells Bruno that he is on his way to Metcalf in Texas to expedite his divorce from his wife so that he can marry Anne Faulkner (Hannah Tointon).
Bruno believes that they can help each other, and at the same time, get away with murder – Bruno wants to be rid of his father, and Haines his wife. The scene ends when they chink their glasses and agree to do the deed for each other.
The scenery then takes centre stage and moves into place depicting the frontages of buildings that slide open to reveal different rooms in different houses and offices. Video footage is played onto them to create a greater sense of place. There is even a moving stairwell and an old locomotive. Each tableau moves the story forward into the next scene.
Whilst Guy Haines is enjoying time with Anne she receives a telephone call, which leaves them both stunned – Haines's estranged wife has been murdered.
Charles Bruno is a rich alcoholic with an abnormal fondness for his mother and a growing attachment to Haines, suggesting that he is also gay. Each scene depicts the manipulation, blackmail, and manoeuvring of Haines by Bruno to get him to reciprocate and kill his father and Bruno grows more and more deranged. Haines is bullied and becomes visibly oppressed.
Act two is driven by the arrival of Arthur Gerard (John Middleton) – a private investigator employed by Bruno's father, and then his mother after her husband is murdered.
There are a few humourous moments to lift the sinister ones, usually where Frank Myers (Sandy Batchelor) is involved. Gerard finally confronts Bruno when he resolves the mystery of his father's death.
The scenery slides away for the final scene, which sees Haines and Bruno, who Haines refuses to call Charles, in a deserted engine yard. All is resolved – or is it? Will Haines slide even deeper into purgatory?
The cast, along with the remarkable scenery, draws the audience in from the start.
Chris Harper, (Charles Bruno) is quite scary as the manipulative closet-gay, alcoholic psychopath with an uncomfortable, abnormal affection for his mother.
Jack Ashton, (Guy Haines) who for me was the outstanding star of the show, portrays a man sliding deeper and deeper into an unwanted nightmare. (** see news below.)
Helen Anderson, (Elsie Bruno) brilliantly portrays the doting mother and Hannah Tointon, (Anne Faulkner) is irritating and outstanding in equal measure.
John Middleton, (Arthur Gerard), Charles’s father’s best friend and detective, fathoms out the relationship between Guy and Charles and his analysis and confrontation with Charles drives the conclusion.
The American accents were excellent and carried impeccably throughout the performance (although I swear John Middleton's had a slight Yorkshire twang).
**Jack Ashton will be running in the London Marathon in April for CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) dedicated to preventing male suicide, which is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in the United Kingdom. To support Jack and read more about this charity please go to: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/jackashton
To see a full review with excellent photography, then York Mix is marvellous. https://www.yorkmix.com/entertainment/review-strangers-train/