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  • Writer's pictureFrances

Strangers On A Train Review | Opera House | Manchester

When mama’s boy Bruno strikes up a conversation with a stranger in an opposing carriage, audiences are shielded from the ominous tones of a generic villain. While speaking to his new friend, a young architect named Guy, Bruno devises the best way to beat the rap for murder. Suggesting that if the two exchange nuisances, they would both avoid any suspicion from the police. But what becomes an uncomfortable joke for Guy soon becomes his reality as Bruno commits the first murder and stalks Guy to complete their transaction.

Coronation Street’s baddie, Christopher Harper (Charles) and Call the Midwife’s Jack Ashton (Guy) play against each other in the crisscrossing psychological thriller. Based on the 1950s novel by Patricia Highsmith and made famous by its Oscar-winning Alfred Hitchcock screen adaptation. Here, director Anthony Banks has opted to play with some film noir aesthetics, with the use of projections, and a memorable smoke-filled finale, but it is largely refashioned for the stage.

In the Opera House, sky-scraping shadows are not used to structure the characters as opposites and drum up suspense. Although Charles often operates in the darkness, the two men are mainly exposed to the elements, lit up for the audience as they pace through their monologues. The menacing Bruno holds some troubling characteristics, peeling his veneer of respectability throughout the production. However, any blurred lines that linked the two men are completely vanquished in this adaptation.

The show frames the characters simply as good verses evil, with staging more diabolical than Bruno’s plot. If you don’t have a centre seat, too bad, you just have to miss a few scenes. The set, however technically brilliant, doesn’t work from all angles. Splitting several scenes into the four corners of the stage with bulky sliding doors that restrict your viewing. Watching shoe box size structures switch from Bruno’s mansion, to Guy's apartment, to a train and an office is impressive. But you can also literally peek behind the curtains to see the inner workings of its cast and crew.

There are no hidden depts to Guy, no grey areas. It has all been a terrible mistake, and as a withdrawn and unwitting accomplice, he becomes a dreary character. Its female leads including Hannah Tointon (Mr. Selfridge) are left to float aimlessly, offering little impact to the story besides their comic relief.

While elements of its stylistic set could have been the foundation for a shadowy neo-noir movie brought to life, the illusion of danger lurking around every corner isn’t present in this production. The tensions of the play build through conversations and interrogations, but with both murders taking place off stage there is little to no pay off for the audience.

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