The words ‘Alfred’ and ‘Hitchcock’ are absent from the programme credits in this muddled new West End thriller. Which is sort of fair enough: writer Craig Warner and director Robert Allan Ackerman have adapted ‘Strangers on a Train’ from Patricia Highsmith’s 1950 novel, not Hitchcock’s 1951 film version.
At the same time, it feels a little perverse not to credit the Master of Suspense at all: ‘Strangers on a Train’ is wrapped up to the point of mummification in the visual currency of his film noirs. And while leads Laurence Fox and Jack Huston offer different takes on titular antiheroes Guy and Bruno to their film counterparts, these starched, stylised performances are beamed direct from Hitch’s America.
They’re not performances for the 2013 London stage, though: Fox’s awkward architect and Huston’s creepy mummy’s boy are so determinedly unnaturalistic as to make no psychological sense.
Fox is actually quite interesting in a downbeat way, but his mumbling, miserable Guy is too low-key to really command our attention. But it’s Huston’s stalker whackjob who lets the side down properly. His camply psychotic Bruno is completely one note, and as he slowly, inexorably pressures Guy into committing the ‘perfect’ crime he’s no deeper, more plausible or less predictable than a cartoon supervillain.
But it’s hard to blame the actors when the show’s formal stiffness was clearly director Ackerman’s intent. The plus side of his noir fixation is that ‘Strangers on a Train’ is a truly wonderful-looking show: from Peter Wilms’s kinetic black and white projections to the seamless revolve, lavish effects and Tim Goodchild’s gorgeous modernist sets, every scene is a visual knockout.
But it never sucks you in emotionally, and for a thriller it just isn’t very thrilling.
By Andrzej Lukowski