Coronation Street star Christopher Harper heads to Brighton for Strangers on a Train

Christopher Harper (centre) stars in Strangers on a Train
Christopher Harper (centre) stars in Strangers on a Train

For an actor, as Christopher Harper is finding, there is huge appeal in villainy.

Christopher, currently in Coronation Street in the show’s grooming storyline, plays the manipulative Charles Bruno on stage to start the New Year in Brighton.

Bruno is the psychopathic playboy who has a chance encounter with a troubled stranger Guy Haines (played by Jack Ashton, Call The Midwife) in Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train, which plays Brighton Theatre Royal from January 5-13.

“It is great to be so daring,” says Christopher. “The best thing about playing the bad guys is the audacity of getting to say the things you would never say in real life.”

Bruno and Haines meet in the dining carriage of a train crossing America. Guy Haines is the successful businessman with a nagging doubt about the fidelity of his wife. Charles Bruno is a cold, calculating chancer with a dark secret. Between them, a casual conversation develops into a daring and dangerous plan.

It’s a fascinating piece to get into, Christopher says.

“Highsmith is a writer who is really not interested in justice. She is not remotely interested as a writer in bringing people to justice at all. She is much more interested in the internal stress and turmoil and duress that people go through when they have done something…”

Highsmith’s novel was famously turned into a film by Alfred Hitchcock.

“The wonderful thing that Hitchcock shares with Highsmith is that level of suspense even when things have become unavoidable. You can see what is going to happen, but with every inch you are thinking ‘He might not, he might not…’ That’s what Highsmith does so well.”

With Bruno, Christopher has really got someone he can sink his teeth into: “I think at first, Bruno is convinced that he is right. He is very charming and he gets his own way. And then we get glimpses of a background of abuse by his father, and then there is also the overly flirtatious relationship that he has with his mother, the insecurity that they both have. You start to see that there are all sorts of things going on in his psychological make-up. He has fallen, on an epic Greek scale, in love with someone, and then he meets this stranger on a train. And you just know that the conversation between them just clicks.”

And it’s all very plausible.

“Small talk can be so boring, and suddenly you are talking to someone who skips past all that. These long journeys across America… I have done one, and you will talk to maybe five or six people, and maybe most are just nice to talk to, but there will also be someone really striking and you just start to think how great it must be to view life from their perspective...”

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