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Stage Version Of Murder Plot Made Famous By Hitchcock
Film buffs will remember the high tension and angst created by Alfred Hitchcock in his black and white movie Strangers on a Train. Now a stage production of the psychological thriller is touring, but those expecting a remake of the Master of Suspense's work need to leave those preconceptions at the door.
Psychological thriller Strangers On A Train is on a UK Theatre tour
Based more closely on the debut novel by Patricia Highsmith than Hitchcock's sanitised version, this new production is more about the psychological effect of murder and obsession than a crime thriller.
There's no murders on stage but what's more chilling is the description by the key players on how inflicting death has affected them.
The tour has stopped off at Birmingham's New Alexandra Theatre for a week from 29 January to 3 February before it moves on to Manchester, Richmond, York and Aylesbury.
The story is a gripping study into how anyone can be forced into murder under the right circumstances. It is based around what happens when two very different strangers meet on a train journey and jokingly hatch a gruesome plan to kill each other's "problems" over a drink.
On one hand, there's the subdued nice guy architect Guy Haines, whose wife has been playing around making a fool of him, while the devil on his shoulder is drunken extrovert and socialite Charles Bruno.
Among a cast of familiar faces from television are Coronation Street baddie Chris Harper as outrageous Charles and Call The Midwife's Jack Ashton as Guy.
A murder plot arises from a chance meeting on a train.
Harper, who was last seen grooming children in Corrie, is a force of nature on stage as Charles, mixing charm with an unhinged obsession for both Guy and his mother. He lights up every scene he is in, playing Charles with a vivacious eccentricity. He obviously relishes being the bad guy and does it so well.
Then there's impressive Hannah Tointon (from ITV's Mr Selfridge) as Guy's new wife Anne. She's very natural on stage, as is Emmerdale's John Middleton (Rev Ashley Thomas in the soap opera) as private investigator Arthur Gerard.
This story is very much character-led, but that's true to the novel by Highsmith, who was also responsible for creating books that were later made into the films The Talented Mr Ripley and, more recently, Carol starring Cate Blanchett.
The story was made famous in an Alfred Hitchcock film of the same name
The real forte of this production for me, however, is the ingenious set design. Opening and shutting various sections of the stage via sliding doors, it swiftly keeps the action moving between grand locations across at least 10 different settings.
There were moments when the doors didn't quite align straight away but that didn't take anything away from the overall effect. The stage design also limited some views for audience members on the far side of rows.
Strangers on a Train may not be what you expect if you've seen the film, but that's no bad thing as it offers a very different and intriguing perspective on what we are all capable of doing,
It captivated me throughout the two-hour performance and was a refreshing new production worthy of one of the greatest thriller writers.