Strangers on a Train

by Craig Warner adapted from the novel by Patricia Highsmith

Directed by Colin Guthrie

February 22nd - March 1st, 2003

The Tower Theatre performing at the Tower Theatre, Canonbury

The last public production at the Tower Theatre


Cast List

Guy Haines : Richard Thornton
Charles Bruno : Stuart Denman
Elsie Bruno : Diane Carr
Anne Faulkner : Simona Hughes
Frank Myers : Martin Buttery
Robert Treacher : James Easey
Arthur Gerard : Richard Pedersen

Music played by
Colin Guthrie (piano)
Luca Burroughs (saxes)
Peter Ringrose (double bass)


Production Team

Director : Colin Guthrie
Set Design : Wendy Parry
Lighting Design : Stephen Ley
Music composed by : Colin Guthrie with Peter Ringrose

Stage Manager : Dinah Irvine
ASMs : Denyse Macpherson, Claire Christy, Nicolanne Cox, Rachel Hindley
Lighting operator : Jane Pallant
Sound operator : Roanne Insley, Colette Dockery
Wardrobe : Jill Batty, Diane Carr
Set construction : Keith Syrett, Robert Myer, Jude Chalk, Sarah Fitzgerald, Alan McKenzie, George Guthrie, Robert Irvine, Claire Rice and members of cast & crew

In-house review by Ben Etherton

Ben Etherton is an aspiring actor who hopes to tread the boards before too long in the Tower's next home.

If Hitchcock movies send a tingle and a frisson of fear down your spine, Strangers on a Train is probably right up your street. Patricia Highsmith's first published novel in 1950 was later made into a film by the great supremo of scare movies himself - so it was no surprise to find murder, mischief and menace the central themes of this gripping psychological thriller.

The Tower production was directed by Colin Guthrie, who also composed the music and played the piano (with Luca Burroughs on sax and Peter Ringrose on double bass). I don't know Mr Guthrie, but what a talented man he is! He directed this difficult thriller with a sense of style and confidence and his music was nothing short of sensational. Used to brilliant effect throughout the production - in turn eerie, stirring and filled with foreboding - it set the tone for the play perfectly. My congratulations to the musicians and the sound operators, Roanne Insley and Colette Dockery, for the expert cueing.

Guy, an architect, is travelling on a train to Texas when he meets Charles Bruno, the feckless son of a rich couple who seems to lead a meaningless existence while he waits for his father to die so he can inherit his fortune. By page six of a 62 page script, these two total strangers are agreeing to commit murder for each other - Bruno is to dispatch Guy's domineering wife while Guy bumps off Bruno's father.

This storyline demands a pretty spectacular leap of faith on the part of the audience, and poses a real challenge for the actors. Fortunately they rose to the challenge with consummate skill. Stuart Denman played Bruno - a difficult part which had to convey both the emptiness of his existence and the edge of menace in his unpredictable nature - with just the right degree of nonchalance and energy, as well as a hint of the gay sexual predator. He just could commit this murder for no other reason than he said he would, and he just could have persuaded Guy to do the same. This was a fine performance with an impeccable stateside accent.

Richard Thornton presented Guy - a regular next-door type - with just the right degree of normality. He longed to get rid of his wife and set up shop with his mistress Anne, and was eager to forge ahead in his career as an architect. I liked the passion he brought to the part when talking about the future, the guilt he felt about his wife, and the deep unease he felt about Bruno and the murder he had rashly been talked into committing. He conveyed a palpable sense of fear as the story unfolded.

Anne, his lover and later his wife, was very well portrayed by Simona Hughes. She had to convey a sense of innocence throughout, as well as the strength at the end of the play to make Guy just walk away and start a new life. I believed in her and could see why Guy did as well. Bruno's doting and glamorous mother, Elsie, was well played by Diane Carr. I wasn't sure if there was an undercurrent of an incestuous relationship with her son, but as with much of this play, there certainly could have been - perhaps that was the point? I thought she played the smothering mother role excellently, however. Martin Buttery played Guy's architect partner Myers and James Easey was his best man. Both were fine and well cast. I was particularly impressed with Richard Pedersen as the private investigator Arthur Gerard. His intrusive questioning as the plot unfolded, coupled with the excellent music, all served to create the right sense of tension in this taut thriller.

The play was presented in a highly stylised way. The men wore black, and the women white, the costumes complementing the action. My compliments to Jill Batty and Diane Carr who were responsible for the wardrobe. The set, designed by Wendy Parry, was less successful. Steel scaffolding formed the backdrop, with furniture moved on and off by an extremely well drilled team. I didn't care for the scaffolding, which seemed somehow too modern, and felt some of the furniture moves were cumbersome. Fortunately, the superb between-scenes music kept the audience rapt and disguised the often noisy moving of props. The production was very well stage managed by Dinah Irvine, and lit by Stephen Ley with flair and imagination.

No one needs reminding that since 1952, the Tavistock Repertory Company has been gracing the Tower Theatre at Canonbury with a huge range of productions of a standard not often found in a single theatre anywhere in the country. So, it was a surprise to find that Strangers on a Train was its final production in this much-loved home. The logic was presumably that while our tenure at Canonbury has come to an end, the company's mixed repertoire will continue as before, so a seamless transition to the future was more appropriate than a rousing end-of-term spectacular. Having said all that, you could almost feel the walls of the theatre dripping with nostalgia on the night I saw this play - and it was a full house! Very deservedly so.