THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Monday 18th March, 2019
Paula Hawkins’s smash hit novel comes to the stage in this effective adaptation by Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel. Our protagonist is Rachel, a woman whose life has gone off the rails since her divorce from Tom. She hits the bottle and commutes to London, her journey taking her past her former house. She makes up lives for the people she sees, especially a young couple she calls Jess and Jason. Except Jess is really Megan and Megan has gone missing… and Rachel has drink-induced gaps in her memory…
As ramshackle Rachel, Samantha Womack is superb, stumbling through the mystery like a drunken (and much younger) Miss Marple, conducting her own investigation just as the cops are investigating her. Rachel is on stage throughout, so we only get to find out what she finds out. Womack manages to arouse our sympathy for this broken woman and she is also rather funny.
Oliver Farnworth is also strong as Megan’s buff and bluff husband Scott, whose fits of rage make him a suspect. John Dougall is highly enjoyable as Detective Inspector Gaskill, and there is a good supporting cast: namely, Naeem Hayat’s shady therapist Kamal, Adam Jackson-Smith as Rachel’s smarmy ex-husband Tom, and especially Lowenna Melrose as Tom’s second wife, Anna – her exchanges with Womack are bitter fun. Kirsty Oswald comes and goes as missing Megan; she gets her moment in the spotlight, recounting the harrowing history of her baby in a particularly affecting scene.
Director Anthony Banks keeps the action fluid; the scene transitions run more smoothly than any rail service, with James Cotterill’s pieces of scenery sliding in and out and across, their motion bringing to mind railway carriages – or perhaps I’ve just been commuting too long myself. Jack Knowles’s lighting and Andrzej Goulding’s projections suggest the passing trains as well as heightening moments of tension. Banks brings all of these elements together to give us a taut, twisty thriller that retains the flavour of the book and improves on the film adaptation.
As well as a whodunnit, it’s a play about the abuse of women by men – but don’t let that put you off. Compelling and intriguing, this touring production is well worth getting on board for.