West End thriller is on the right track


Cinema has been known to borrow tricks from the theatre – and vice versa – but it’s not often the two combine, writes Becca Choules

Craig Warner’s Strangers On A Train does just that. It blurs the line between the two mediums and presents a hybrid cine film live on stage, with special effects and suspense aplenty – and to top it all, it features Berkhamsted’s Tim Ahern.

The actor – originally from Boston, USA – plays the doting father of Anne Faulkner, soon to be Haines, and he wasn’t fibbing when he admitted his time on stage was short when we spoke before my trip to London to catch the show.

His role extends as far as a quick telephone call and a couple of the Haines’ wedding snaps. But despite his lack of lines, the Mirrors actor dons his tailored suit and plays the part with panache.

Based on the plot of Patricia Highsmith’s 1949 novel, the West End stage adaptation showcases the chance meeting of two men on a train to Santa Fe take a sinister turn when they realise they can help each other commit the deadliest of crimes.

Talented architect Guy Haines is all set to marry the beautiful Anne, but his unfaithful first wife threatens to pull the plug on his new life by refusing to sign the divorce papers. How can he shut her up?

Enter Charles Bruno – a wealthy, irresponsible mummy’s boy with a pathological hatred of his father, who holds the purse strings and frowns upon his hedonistic lifestyle.

Jack Huston is a textbook sociopath as the chilling Bruno, who convinces himself the plan is a done deal and duly travels to Texas to throttle the life out of Guy’s wife.

That done, he informs his new pal of what he’s done and encourages him to complete his side of the bargain. Straight-laced Guy categorically refuses, which prompts Charles to embark on a campaign of letters and veiled threats to ensure his father’s life is snuffed out.

Sure enough, Guy – played by Laurence Fox – finally succumbs to the pressure and, driven to the brink of madness, blows the old man’s brains out – but only on the proviso that Charlie goes on his merry way.

Well, you can guess that doesn’t quite go to plan, and we see Charlie’s twisted obsession with Guy heighten and climax with his evil attempt to pass on a farmyard disease to pregnant Anne, putting her and her unborn child at risk.

Sadly, the only weakness in the cast was Laurence Fox as the stiff-collared main protagonist Mr Haines. He missed the opportunity to delve deeper into the creepy closeness which cropped up between him and Charlie, but instead he chose to keep him at arm’s length.

He spent most of the time babbling incoherently as he tried to portray madness on stage, but in all honesty I’d rather he had toned it down a little so I could actually understand what was coming out of his mouth. The final nail in the coffin was his woeful attempt at an American accent, which was less than convincing.

That said, what was perhaps the glue that held it all together was the incredible rotating set which provided swift and seamless switches between scenes – flitting between the Haines’ stylish marital home, Guy’s architect digs and the grandeur of the Bruno’s affluent pile.

Perhaps not one for theatre purists, but if you fancy being thrilled with a dash of discomfort and plenty of dark humour then Strangers On A Train is well worth a watch.

But the show only runs until February 22, so you better book your tickets here quick.