There are two horses, a white horse, and a black horse. The white horse is good, the black horse, base. This is the context in which Guy Haines, reading Plato, meets Charles Bruno. Bruno, a man of infinite energy, disagrees with the great philosopher. Instead, he claims, we are all just grey horses, trapped in a world where we must use our black horse to set ourselves free.
Such is his argument towards Guy Haines, the stranger on the train, with whom he agrees to switch murders. Guy, presuming this all a farce, thinks nothing more of it, unaware that this fateful encounter will change his life forever.
Chris Harper’s portrayal of Charles Bruno is high class, subtly combining charismatic maneuvering with childlike playfulness and moments of genuine love and tenderness with his mother. Harper simultaneously creates great distrust yet also sympathy towards Bruno, a character who in many ways seems simply unloved and in great physical and emotional pain. It is the mark of a good villain that the audience is on his side, captivated by his manner, and Harper certainly did this.
The progression of Guy Haines from a calm, determined, idealist to a stony-faced, emotionless wreck, devoid of passion, is masterfully conveyed by Jack Ashton. Ashton conveys the irony that Guy, through releasing his black horse, becomes perhaps the most grey and the glummest character of the lot. It would have been easy to play Guy as getting madder, crazier and more out of control, but the subtlety of Ashton’s reduction of Guy to a mere shadow of the man he was, and if Guy is dead himself, is carefully crafted.
The interplay between these two leads is again very clever. Ashton and Harper convey a potentially homoerotic relationship between Guy and Charles, but shrewdly, this is left in the mind of the audience to decide how far this goes.
Special praise must also be reserved for the set designer, David Woodhead whose ingenious mobile set allows multiple windows to be opened at different levels, letting us look in on the performers’ worlds, and enabling multiple scenes to occur at once. It must also be recognised that the performers played the set perfectly, acting most of the scenes out to the audience. Often captivated by the bravado and charisma of Bruno, it was as we were complicit in the deal between him and Guy, and its repercussions.
There are moments of pure mesmerisation in this performance. However, at times perhaps the tension fades away slightly too much, and the psychological trauma clearly being experienced by Guy and Charles is not quite mirrored by the feeling in the audience. Small details such as Charles caressing the neck of Guy’s new wife, Anne Haines, are wonderfully chilling, and more moments like this would add even more to this performance.
On the whole, this is a visually stunning performance, which is acted to the highest standard. The motifs and characters never feel forced and there is a dark sense of reality running throughout the play. The play shows Plato was right – we must control our black horse, or face the consequences.
Review by Tristan Greene
Christopher Harper (Coronation Street), John Middleton (Emmerdale), Jack Ashton (Call The Midwife) and Hannah Tointon (Mr Selfridge) lead the cast in a brand-new production of the spellbinding thriller.
Strangers On A Train is based on the world-renowned 1950 novel by Patricia Highsmith made universally famous by the classic Oscar-Winning Alfred Hitchcock film. In the great tradition of Hitchcock, this spine-chilling tale will delight you with its dark wit whilst having you on the edge of your seat from the start.
A fateful encounter takes place between two men in the dining carriage of a train crossing America. Guy is the successful businessman with a nagging jealousy; Charles is the cold, calculating chancer with a dark secret. A daring and dangerous plan develops from this casual conversation setting in motion a chain of events that will change the two men’s lives forever.
The cast is led by Christopher Harper, Coronation Street’s Nathan Curtis, playing the charismatic and manipulative Charles Bruno. Having played Vicar Ashley Thomas in Emmerdale for over 20 years, John Middleton makes his UK touring stage debut as Detective Arthur Gerard. Completing the line-up is Call The Midwife favorite Jack Ashton as the troubled Guy Haines alongside Mr. Selfridge star Hannah Tointon as Guy’s fiancé Anne Faulkner.
The creative team behind the acclaimed production of Gaslight reunite, with Anthony Banks directing, Design by David Woodhead, Lighting Design by Howard Hudson and Music and Sound by Ben and Max Ringham, plus Video and Projection Design by Duncan McLean.
Mon 19 – Sat 24 FEB 2018
Mon 5 – Sat 10 MAR 2018
Grand Opera House York
Mon 19 – Sat 24 MAR 2018
Aylesbury Waterside Theatre