Theatre Review: The Girl on the Train

Following Paula Hawkins’ bestselling novel and following film adaptation, it was only a matter of time before The Girl on the Train hit the stage. Fast-paced from beginning to end, Samantha Womack gave an impressive performance as alcoholic-turned-mystery-solver Rachel Watson, and the production retained the suspense that Hawkins’ novel does so well.

Undoubtedly, there’s an unprecedented amount of psychological complexity within Hawkins’ novel and Womack should be applauded for her heart-wrenching portrayal of Rachel; whether she’s a damaged observer, a wronged woman or bitter ex we are left guessing until the very end. Womack’s extensive acting career in television, stage and film ultimately paid off in this role. There was no glamour about the role, but Womack sensitively approached Rachel’s alcoholism and heart-break over ex-husband Tom. In fact, there was something cathartic about going to the theatre to see an ordinary, relatable middle-aged woman at its centre.

Meanwhile, Adam Jackson Smith impressively played deceptive ex-husband Tom as charming then repulsive and then terrifying to watch, whilst Oliver Farnworth played Scott Hipwell daringly sympathetically, encouraging audiences to forget his sometimes violent tendencies towards girlfriend Megan (Kirsty Oswald). Whilst D.I. Gaskill (John Dougall) provided much needed comic relief throughout, allowing the audience light-hearted distractions from Rachel’s plight.

Anthony Banks’ ambition in this production is clear and from its outset was totally gripping. Various screens and sounds were utilized to convey the infamous train in the title, yet subtlety was also key. Costume designer James Cotterill opted for a red dress for Megan, which as time went on became increasingly dark and then black before her death. Although symbolically far from nuanced, it was nice to see attention to detail in the costuming.

Arguably some staging decisions bordered on the obvious, there was nothing over-the-top in this production, making Hawkins’ characters and their complex lives its very focus. Rachel’s therapy sessions with Kamal Abdic (Naeem Hayat) were particularly tense; with either party sat on chairs at opposite sides of the stage, therapy was made far from comfortable in this production, yet Megan’s appearance between the characters re-iterated the very plot behind the story: a vulnerable missing girl whose voice has often been silenced. When her voice was finally heard in this scene, audience members were welling up at the depth behind her story and the simplicity in which it was told- without staging effects and without interruptions.

Whilst there were moments when this production could have been better, The Girl on the Train proved thoroughly entertaining and its dramatic end was well worth the 90 minute wait.

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