Review: Strangers on a Train, Sheffield Lyceum

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If you have ever been mildly irritated by the incompetence of a rail company, just thank your lucky stars that you have never bumped into, and then struck up a conversation with, a fellow traveller like Charles Bruno.

Bruno, one of novelist Patricia Highsmith’s most vivid villains, is one of those outwardly plausible people with a hide like a rhinoceros, devoid of any feelings of guilt or responsibility and, yes, let’s be brutal here, something of a psychopath. Highsmith asks us to believe that this silver-tongued wastrel is able to convince another young man that they will both be advantaged by the death of someone close to them. In Bruno’s case, it is his father, and for Guy Haines, it is his wayward wife.

Strangers on a Train was an early novel from Highsmith, then a box office belter for Hitchcock, and now it arrives on stage, in an effective and taut adaptation by Craig Warner. Aside from the script, there are two other key factors that keep the evening on track. The first is that it is exceptionally well cast, and the second is the set and costume design from David Woodhead, with scene (literally) sliding into scene with apparently effortless ease.

As Bruno, Chris Harper is chilling. He plays him as a man with no discernible ethos or take on life beyond complete self-regard. Jack Ashton is the manipulated Haines, Hannah Tointon his second wife, Anne, who is revealed to have a stronger backbone that we ever suspected, and John Middleton delivers a calmly astute Arthur Gerard, a retired private investigator who turns out to be not quite the plodding buffoon that Bruno takes him for.

To January 20. At York Grand Opera House, March 5-10.