Tuesday 21 November 2017

Take a thrilling Train ride to the dark side

Aedin Gormley

I used to travel on trains quite a bit. There are passengers who sit down, put earphones in or open a newspaper as signals that they do not want to talk. The other type sits down eager to participate in conversation for the journey. Which one are you? Do you like to talk to strangers on trains?

If you have seen Hitchcock's psychological thriller Strangers on a Train, based on the 1950 novel of the same name by Patricia Highsmith, you might think twice about chatting to the fella beside you.

The brilliant plot is simple. In the film, two men played by Robert Walker and Farley Granger meet accidentally on a train, with no connection between them. Each of them has somebody he'd like to get rid of. So what if they were to swap murders? The stranger, Bruno, will kill Guy's estranged wife if Guy will kill Bruno's hated father. What could possibly go wrong?

The stage version of this tale adapted by Craig Warner has just opened in the Gielgud Theatre in London. In the film version, Ruth Roman played the role of Anne Morton, Guy's love interest. In this production, the role is being played by Miranda Raison.

When we chatted this week, the first thing Miranda made clear was that the stage version is very different to the film. She also pointed out that Raymond Chandler reworked Highsmith's novel for the film to make it much less dark.

So as an actor approaching the play, do you read the novel and watch the film? Miranda is a big Hitchcock fan and happened to have watched the film ahead of being cast but she then decided to read the novel. She discovered that her character in the play was much stronger than in the novel or the film.

The stage adaptation sees Anne having a very interesting relationship with Bruno, the baddie! Miranda would not describe it as a love triangle, but she is very much part of their set-up. "There is a natural affiliation with Bruno, who is a rather engaging boy, you would be drawn to him."

Other differences to note include the fact that in the book Guy is an architect, in the film he is a tennis pro. The role played in the film by Hitchcock's daughter does not feature in the book or the play at all.

Reading the novel, Miranda loved the great sense of desperation, the awful feeling of not wanting to be found out. They were very conscious of the need to keep that tension in the staging. "It's a book you might have to put down for a minute because the tension is so intense, but on stage you don't have time, you have two hours."

There has been quite a trend in recent years for successful films hitting the stage from The Shawshank Redemption to The Graduate. They can look and sound like the movie. This stage adaptation of Strangers on a Train is perhaps a little more creative in that Craig Warner has for the most part ignored the film, gone back to the novel and then put his own spin on it. Miranda kept a few secrets from me so as not to give too much away.

"People are coming out having had a very suspenseful couple of hours, which you don't get in the theatre very often. A thriller on stage is quite an ambitious thing."

Strangers On A Train is running at the Gielgud Theatre, London, until February 22, 2014. strangersonatrainlondon.com

Aedín Gormley presents Movies and Musicals (Sat 1-4pm) and Sunday Matinée (Sun 12-2pm) on RTÉ lyric fm.

Irish Independent

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