Strangers on a Train review - November 2013

Strangers on a train wreak...


With an iconic name like Alfred Hitchcock tangled up with Strangers On A Train, it is hard to disassociate the stage play from the 1950’s film of the same name. However I feel this was precisely the problem that director Robert Allan Ackerman and designers Tim Goodchild and Tim Lutkin had as they tried to recreate the cinematic, film noir elements on stage. The end result was a badly lit piece that had me struggling to see what was happening on stage, with some taking the darkness as an opportunity to drift off in to enviable sleep. Not ideal.

I enjoyed the symbolism of the boldly designed set, which cleverly reflected protagonist Guy Haine’s career as an architect. The problem for me was that the set was too complex, which was perhaps a great idea on paper, but in reality it was clunky, making for long scene transitions and awkward pauses. On top of this, whilst the odd train projection was a nice way to set the scene, by the end of the piece I felt that projections had been somewhat overused. We were in a theatre after all, and part of the joy of live performance is that one does not have to rely on pre-recorded image to further a narrative.

Worst of all was Laurence Fox’s wooden portrayal of Guy and his terrible attempt at a convincing American accent. He meandered through the piece, with his only emotional reaction coming from his frequently ruffled hair. I think this was supposed to convey distress? Although spare a thought for the poor ensemble who appear in approximately two scenes, during which time they are badly lit, leaving the audience very confused as to who they are and what they are doing during the curtain call.

The writing of the piece was at times shaky and I do not know whose idea it was to make the second act much longer and far less pacey than the first but quite frankly I think this was a cruel trick! I thought I’d be free of the theatrical imprisonment before 10pm. I was wrong.

The only real spark in this grey piece was MyAnna Buring’s Miriam. Buring played the southern belle with a playful exuberance, which was a welcome break from various other inexpressive members of the cast. The real shame of the play isn’t that a strange stalker obsesses over Guy Haine’s and his whiney life; it’s that poor jovial Miriam gets shunted off stage after barely two scenes!

Aside from pondering how unfair life is in giving a uninspiring show a big budget and a beautiful theatre, whilst true talents are still trying to break their way out of dingy beer stained pub attics, I would suggest if you want to see a classy Hitchcock classic then you ought to hop across Piccadilly Circus and see The 39 Steps.

13 November 2013, Gielgud Theatre