The Girl on The Train

The Girl on the train

If you took a holiday in 2015, it’s very likely that your poolside reading included Paula Hawkins’ best-selling thriller. Main character Rachel Watson takes the train into London every day – looking out of the window at the affluent street she lived on before her divorce and wondering about the lives of a young couple she sees on a balcony a few doors down from her old home. They seem to have the perfect relationship, a direct contrast with Rachel’s broken marriage and growing dependence on alcohol. When Megan Hipwell, the young woman upon whom Rachel is fixated disappears, Rachel is drawn into the investigation and left questioning her memories and even her own potential involvement in the case.

In 2016 The Girl on the Train was turned into a film, with the action moving across the pond to upstate New York – a move that wasn’t entirely welcomed, with many saying this lost the gritty realism of the original novel.

Now the story has been adapted again, this time for the stage. We’re back in London and, while the novel focuses on the three main female characters, this version tells the story purely from the point of view of Rachel, the titular girl on the train, and stars Samantha Womack, best known as Ronnie Mitchell from Eastenders.

Womack is by far the best thing about the production. She is completely convincing as the alcoholic whose life has fallen apart, following her infertility and her ex-husband’s infidelity. He has remarried and has a new baby while she is living alone in a filthy flat with just her bitterness, frequent memory black-outs and a bottle of vodka for company. It is a testament to Womack’s strength as an actor that I was immediately able to feel sympathetic towards a character who, without knowing her back story, first appears to be a self-destructive “hot mess”.

Rachel’s sense of isolation is enhanced by good use of lighting and a chilling soundtrack that effectively increases the tension. The set is simple – houses of the protagonists take centre stage, clearly reflecting the personalities of their occupants. During set changes we often see Rachel alone picked out by a spotlight, emphasising her sense of isolation.

Unfortunately, Womack’s performance and the decent aesthetics of the production are let down by a very weak script and poor direction. The other characters are barely developed and far too often a conversation is delivered with characters standing unnaturally side by side facing the audience, or a few times with one actor blocking another, making it hard to follow the dialogue. The strongest supporting performance comes from Kirsty Oswald who as Megan has very little direct interaction with other characters but appears in flashbacks, telling her own story in a series of monologues. In these short scenes, Oswald gives an emotional portrayal that gives more insight into her character than we get from any of the other characters.

My main problem with the script was the ease with which Rachel managed to get herself involved in the investigation. Clearly so drunk she could hardly stand up, she was still able to get invited into the Hipwell home by Megan’s husband Scott (Coronation Street’s Oliver Farnworth doing his best without much to work from) and even being taken into the confidence of the lead investigator on the case, a bizarrely wise-cracking DI Gaskill played by John Dougall. The amount of comic one-liners included didn’t work for me, taking away from the page-turning tension of the novel, although they did seem to go down well with a lot of the audience.

Fans of Samantha Womack will not be disappointed. She hardly leaves the stage and her energy and commitment doesn’t drop. However, anybody looking for a thrilling mystery would be better off reading the book as this stage version fails to live up to it.

Review by Penny Walshe

The Girl on the Train is on at the Churchill Theatre until Saturday 19th then continues its tour. To book tickets for the Churchill visit their website.

If you like this review you might also like my review of 9 to 5, Six and Ghost Stories.

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