Brian Beacom

DO we all have good and evil in us? Are we all capable of the most heinous acts, if the circumstances take us to the edge of possibility?

That’s the underlying theme in stage play, Strangers On A Train, now running in Glasgow.

Patricia Highsmith’s 1950 novel was turned into a classic film noir by Alfred Hitchcock the following year.

Now, Strangers stars Chris Harper, recently seen as Coronation Street sex abuser Nathan Curtis, as creepy schemer Charles Bruno.

“I’m totally typecast in this,” says Chris, smiling.

For those who don’t know the story, Strangers is the tale of two men who wish someone else dead.

Architect Guy’s career is threatened he reckons by his promiscuous wife, while the charming but psychopathic Charles Bruno wants to get his hands on his father’s cash.

Bruno suggests that they should swap murders so that neither will come under suspicion.

Guy is having none of it, but Bruno pressures him into evil.

“This play suggests everyone has good and evil in them,” says Chris. “And gradually these guys go into a terrible place.”

It’s a fascinating journey for an audience to make. How can these ‘normal’ men come to be plotting murder?

“Everyone speaks nicely about Charlie Bruno but it becomes obvious it’s a friendly veneer.

“Meantime, Guy’s wife Anne doesn’t suspect anything other than he’s a lovable drunk, but you get to see the other side.”

Forty year-old Chris says he loves playing men who are not what they seem to be.

“I’m always attracted to the darker sides of characters.

“One of the things I loved about Nathan, and also about Bruno, is they are characters who makes a very good first impression.

“It’s a fascinating barrel of snakes.”

The play poses the question; would Guy have gone into the darkness on his own? What are we truly capable of?

“That’s really what the play is about,” says Chris.

“The books was written just after the war, when so many people were committing hideous acts. The play suggests this is in all of us. It just takes someone to hit the right buttons.”

Chris, who is married to actress Emily Bowker, reveals he loved his stint on Coronation Street, playing the sex groomer who manipulated vulnerable teen, Bethany.

Yet, actors generally have to contend with public abuse when they play characters so vile?

“I didn’t have a single problem with any fan of the show I happened to meet in the street,” he maintains.

“In fact, there’s always been a happy energy. The only time there hasn’t been is when you meet some of the fans who had been abused themselves and they wanted to share that.

“They were clearly emotional and that made me really emotional.”

Londoner Chris adds; “The Coronation Street storyline links back to this play. It’s about chemistry, and how someone can be taken down the wrong path.”

The Street stint, says Chris, has changed his life profoundly.

The actor has since helped raise awareness of child sex abuse through charity work and as patron for the charity Voicing CSA, which helps adult survivors of child sexual abuse to speak out.

However, if you play a sex abuser in Corrie, the chances are you don’t get to go back.

“The victims I’ve now met are friends, and I’m an ambassador for the NSPCC. What I’ve realised is if a story like this is handled well, it’s fantastic and its given me a ridiculous sense of purpose.”

Does this suggest he lacked a little sense of purpose previously?

“Perhaps. As an actor, you bring your own flavour to thing, but the meal is prepared by a chef.”

He adds; “In this play I hope people enjoy the performance. But when you do a TV show which goes out to nine million about a an abuse subject you really feel you can do something worthwhile.”

Yet, while Chris has become famous for playing despicable characters, does that not go against the grain? Don’t actors get into the business to be loved?

“We’re in it for the money,” he says laughing.

“No, seriously, we’re in it for the challenge, to get good parts, to play great, complex characters and to read great lines, such as I get to do in this play.

“If you’re in it to be loved, you’re in the wrong business.”

• Strangers On A Train, the Theatre Royal, until Saturday.