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Strangers on a Train review at Theatre Royal, Brighton – ‘stylishly designed’

Christopher Harper and Jack Ashton in Strangers on a Train at Theatre Royal Brighton. Photo: Helen Maybanks Christopher Harper and Jack Ashton in Strangers on a Train at Theatre Royal Brighton. Photo: Helen Maybanks

Craig Warner’s adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith novel (made famous by the Hitchcock movie), Strangers on a Train is a solid one.

Jack Ashton and Chris Harper play Charles Bruno and Guy Haines, the travellers whose fateful meeting sets in motion a chain of deadly events. Both handle their roles well, with Harper particularly good at ramping up the menace as his genial mask slips.

They are surrounded by an able cast, including Hannah Tointon as Haines’ oblivious new wife, who welcomes Bruno into their home, Helen Anderson channelling a Tennessee Williams vibe as Bruno’s over-indulgent mother, and John Middleton as the dogged Detective Gerard.

The real star, though, is David Woodhead’s design. Lit by Howard Hudson like an Edward Hopper painting, his set is an intricate puzzle – doors slide to reveal hidden boxes, rooms are tucked away, creating an unsettling uncertainty. It’s not always careful of sight lines, but it is cleverly used: the scene where Haines finally succumbs to Bruno’s pressure and climbs the half-glimpsed staircase to a room we cannot see is one of the most effective of the night.

Delivered by the creative team behind last year’s Gaslight, it’s a more satisfying production by far, though Anthony Banks’ direction could still be tighter. The first half is overlong, and the overall piece would have benefitted from a sharper edit. For all its workmanlike competency, the production never quite manages to imbue the material with the tension it needs.

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Solid adaptation of a classic noir elevated by clever and stylish design