There are some stories that are bigger than their medium. And by that I mean, you know the plot but may have never read the book, or seen the film, or seen the play. You may not have read Harry Potter but know it’s about wizards. You may not have seen Psycho but know the mother’s been dead the whole time. You may not have seen Hamlet but know everybody dies. Sorry, spoilers. The same can be said for the dark psychological thriller Strangers on a Train. You may not have read the Patricia Highsmith novel, seen the Alfred Hitchcock film or seen the Gielgud Theatre stage show but you know the plot. If you don’t, here it is: two strangers meet on a train. They both have a problem. Their problem is a person. But what if that person was to go away in a very permanent way.
I haven’t read the book or seen the film, but I have (you guessed it) seen the stage show. It boasts reviews such as:
“The final coup de théâtre is one of the most spectacular and unexpected I have ever seen on stage.”
“This spine-snapper of a stalker tale.”
“Laurence Fox pins you to your seat.”
I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed. The posters brag a stellar British cast, but that was the problem, they were British. The accents were all over the place; some from here, some from there and some inaudible, lost in a thick ‘gravel’. I find it difficult to get lost in something if I can’t understand what they are saying. I imagine it’s like when we watch American television and we hear an American put on a British accent, it’s cringing. If an American was in the audience, they would be cringing. Unfortunately, being unable to become fully engrossed in the action on stage, I got distracted and noticed other small annoyances.
The design was beautiful, the acting couldn’t take me to 1950s America, but the set and costume could. Using all fifty shades of grey, it was like watching a Film Noir on the stage, making red hair and femme fatale blood red lips stand out all the more. Polar opposites, black and white, the colour of the horses pulling at our moral chariots, as described in Plato’s works. The set strengthens the allegory and makes us question which horse pulls at the strangers’ chariots. I assume that’s what we were meant to read into it rather than the forcing of a cinematic technique onto the stage. The set was also a constant distraction. In three wedges of a rotating stage, the designers have tried to recreate some intimate spaces that require a lot of attention and unceasing change. From where I was sat (Dress Circle), I could see and hear many set changes.
The play and its advertising say they are drawing inspiration from the book rather than the Hitchcock film. But let’s be honest with ourselves, if Hitchcock’s touched it, do you dare to do better? It may be more truthful to the book, it may be well written, however, I’m not convinced it belongs on the stage. It’s so disappointing to see a show like that. I’ve not blogged for a long time and I was hoping to start with more of a bang. The long and short of it: it was okay. It was fine.