When reincarnating something as famous as Strangers on a Train, it can be easy to fall into the trap of trying to reinvent every aspect of the production. Robert Allan Ackerman’s interpretation, however, revels in the history of this work. While more faithful in plot to Patricia Highman’s novel, from the second the curtain rises to reveal a projection of a chugging steam train through to the play’s denouement, there is clear homage being paid to Hitchcock’s screenplay’s film noir style.
Undoubtedly the most impressive aspect of this production is the staging, which alternates between complex sets that would not look out of place in a film, to minimalist scenes with nothing but a spotlight. The most striking of these is the scene on the carousel in the first half, which makes sublime use of the rotating stage. However, it is not the physical incarnations of the stalking and the murders that create the fear and suspense in this play, but the intensity of characterisation. The actors are at their best in the soliloquy scenes, as Bruno’s obsession and Haines’ mental decline intensify throughout the latter stages of the first act. Jack Huston’s Bruno captivates the audience’s attention from the moment he appears on stage until the final scene, striking up disturbing, yet believable relationships with both his mother and his companion in crime, which he delivers with searing vivacity. Unfortunately, Lawrence Fox has marginally less success in portraying Haines. At times, he is Huston’s equal, particularly during the scenes of mental disintegration as Bruno blackmails Haines into murder. However, at other moments it is hard to believe that Fox is playing the same character as in the preceding scene, since his portrayal alters from a nervous, stammering Haines to one of confidence and stature. This is particularly apparent in the opening scenes: he seems incredibly awkward when first confronted by Bruno, yet then incredibly confident in dealing with his former wife in the scene which follows.
Nonetheless, these momentary lapses of characterisation do not detract greatly from the first half of the production simply because the action moves so fast, with the audience so immersed in this gripping tale of blackmail, friendship and psychological disorder so as not to notice them.
The second half of the production is slower and, in this case, consequently weaker. However, the denouement is executed with such drama and unexpectedness as to redeem the entire second half of the performance, and is undoubtedly the most shocking and impressive ending I have ever witnessed on stage. In short, this interpretation of Strangers on a Train is so fast-paced and, in general, well-executed as to hide its flaws, and thus make it nothing short of an exceptionally compelling drama.