Theatre review - Strangers on a Train, Manchester Opera House

PUBLISHED: 18:30 06 February 2018 | UPDATED: 18:30 06 February 2018

Christopher Harper as Charles Bruno and Jack Ashton as Guy Haines
Credit: Helen Maybanks

Christopher Harper as Charles Bruno and Jack Ashton as Guy Haines Credit: Helen Maybanks

Archant

Definitely worth the trip to town! Strangers on a Train is a well done iteration of the Patricia Highsmith novel, famously taken to the silver screen by Alfred Hitchcock.

Hannah Tointon as Anne Faulkner, with Jack Ashton | Strangers on a Train
Credit: Helen Maybanks Hannah Tointon as Anne Faulkner, with Jack Ashton | Strangers on a Train Credit: Helen Maybanks

The very fact that Hitchcock himself chose Highsmith’s debut novel, Strangers on a Train, within weeks of publication gives you an idea of the story’s genre – psychological suspense. This stage play is an excellent adaption and the key roles are extremely well done.

To summarise, our two male leads – Charles Bruno, played by Coronation Street’s Chris Harper and Guy Haines, played by Jack Ashton of Call the Midwife – meet on a train. Two complete strangers with one thing in common – somebody is preventing them from achieving their dream. The alcoholic, obsessive Bruno declares that all their problems would be solved were they to murder each other’s nemesis – no connection between killer and killed means no chance of being caught: the perfect murder, as it were. Haines agrees, laughingly, and they go their separate ways. From here on in, it’s murder and mental torture right till the closing scene.

Christopher Harper as Charles Bruno and Jack Ashton as Guy Haines in Strangers on a Train
Credit: Helen Maybanks Christopher Harper as Charles Bruno and Jack Ashton as Guy Haines in Strangers on a Train Credit: Helen Maybanks

Harper and Ashton are brilliantly cast. Harper’s Bruno is intense; initially affable and entertaining, but a bitter drunk is never a safe companion. His relationship with his mother, played by Helen Anderson, verges on the incestuous – a line never overtly crossed, but the inference of an unhealthy relationship is plain. This is a young man desperate to get his hands on his trust fund and filled with hatred towards the man preventing that (quite sensibly, one must say), his father.

Ashton’s Guy Haines gives us a slow, very watchable descent into guilt-fuelled madness, his previous lightness of spirit and creative soul dimmed and dulled by the realisation of his culpability in the events that unfolded after their chance meeting on the train. He is no innocent however, a fact which clearly contributes to his remorse.

Haine’s fiancée, and then wife, Anne (played by Hannah Tointon of Mr. Selfridge) does a fine job of the bouncy, then increasingly concerned, other half and her main scene with Bruno is both entertaining and menacing.

There is no chance of a happy ending in any story Hitchcock chose to film, but we’re left guessing right till the end just what will happen. Will Haines keep up his side of the bargain – a pact with the devil he had no idea he was making? Will Bruno’s obsession with Haines get the better of him? Is Anne safe? Will they be caught? The whole ‘good v evil’ thing we love so much in theatre and movies simply doesn’t come into play here. It’s a story of human nature, of both natural and unnatural behaviour and the causes and catalysts for all that takes place may start out perfectly recognisable, but what happens next leads us into a world of what ifs.

What we saw on stage last night was a great story excellently told, the actors supported by a very clever set, which opened windows and doors and revealed each next step in carefully framed segments, supported by lighting and effects that were well pitched to keep the sense of ‘what happens next?’ rolling for the duration.

Strangers on a Train is at Manchester Opera House until Saturday 10 February. For tickets visit www.atgtickets.com/venues/opera-house-manchester or telephone 0844 871 7615.

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