A theatrical stage noir has opened at the Gielgud Theatre in London as one of Patricia Highsmith’s best known psychological novels, Strangers on a Train, immortalised on film by Hitchcock, gets a new stage production by Craig Warner, directed by Robert Allan Ackerman.
An accomplished cast bring this nail-biting tale of an ordinary man entrapped into a web of lies, deceit and murder to life, but it’s the design by Tim Goodchild, costumes by Dona Granata, lighting by Tim Lutkin, projections by Peter Wilms and sound by Avgoustas Psillas that prove to be the winning elements in this moody, atmospheric, monochrome production.
The projections especially, laid over and behind the constantly revolving set, add an extraordinarily atmospheric dimension to the play, blurring the lines between film noir and theatre, particularly the scenes set on the train.
The sound, whilst effective in using music to conjure Hitchcock and evoke the era, often seems out of balance with dialogue from the actors, it’s volume and power leaving them rather flat. Perhaps if you are going to harness film noir techniques for theatre, then it might be time to face reality and mic the actors, in a production that is in danger of letting the design overpower the performances.
This is especially true of Laurence Fox in the lead role of Guy Haines, an architect who is embroiled in a one-sided pact with rich, drunk and obsessive fellow train passenger Charles Bruno, played by Jack Huston. Fox, and to some extent Bruno, are almost playing it to camera, with a quiet subtely that doesn’t really get much further than the footlights.
The performances only really get cranking, and match the quality of the rest of the production, when Imogen Stubbs gives us her throaty, sexy turn as Charles’ mother, a role she is clearly relishing (and reminding us that, whilst Stubbs works constantly, she has been overlooked and has the ability to become something altogether much more significant within British theatre); and when Christian McKay as dogged private detective Gerard and MyAnna Buring as Anna light up the stage.
There is much lighting up in this production, some ingenious and proving to be a true coup de theatre, but there needs to be more light coming from the performances.