Robert Allan Ackerman’s glossy production of Strangers On A Train may have been sold as an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel, but the inspiration for its staging blatantly lies in the work of Alfred Hitchcock, whose 1951 film is channeled throughout in all its film noir splendor.
It is there in the portrayal of a wife kept in the dark, with Miranda Raison the perfect Hitchcock blonde. It’s there in the frenetic, filmic soundtrack and frenzied video projections of train tracks rushing by. And it’s there in Jack Huston’s crisp American drawl and sharp suits as the Norman Bates of this murderous drama, Bruno.
With a Cheshire cat grin, constant thirst for scotch and uncanny ability to turn up at the very worst of moments with a butter wouldn’t melt expression pasted to his face, Huston conjures up the most charismatic of psychopaths and will without doubt make you think twice about striking up conversation next time you take your seat next to a stranger on a Virgin train.
But of course, head to the Gielgud and you’ll not find yourself faced with the greasy buffet car and claustrophobic toilets we know and love from the commuters’ number one mode of transportation. This is 1950s America, the Golden Age of train travel and a fact that designer Tim Goodchild has fully monopolised, creating a whirlwind of sets that spin on the stage’s revolve to reveal glamorous monogrammed suitcase-filled luxury private carriages, alongside a showstopping merry-go-round and the ‘cutting edge’ lounge of Anne and husband Guy.
Laurence Fox plays this architect protagonist Guy, whose flippant train-set pact with Bruno leads to blackmail, murder and delusions, with an uptight, unemotional façade unraveling steadily throughout as Bruno infiltrates every aspect of his life. This sinister turn of events is mirrored with a film noir filter applied to the production, the characters’ glorious vintage costumes made only in 50 shades of grey, while projected shadows flit over their faces as events turn darker.
But it is Huston’s Bruno who, in his beaming white suit and puppy-like enthusiasm, stands out from all. Perfectly creepy – something that is only exacerbated by an incestuous relationship with his husky voiced mother, played as a mix between desperate housewife and femme fatale by Imogen Stubbs – his energy keeps Ackerman’s production pacey and unpredictable.
While the scenes may be rather too short and sweet for some, and the momentum arguably peaks too soon, audiences won’t be able to help being swept away by the stylish show’s elaborate staging and technical prowess.