DramaReviewSouth East

Girl on the Train – Theatre Royal, Norwich

Adapters: Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel

Director: Anthony Banks

Reviewer: Lu Greer

Based on the best selling book of the same name, Girl on the Train follows Rachel Watson as she battles with a spiral of depression and alcohol by losing herself in the voyeurism of watching a couple a few doors down from her old home through the train window each day. Rachel’s life, surrounded by empty bottles, chaos, and blackouts means that when the woman she’s been watching disappears Rachel becomes the quintessential unreliable witness leaving the audience to unpick just what her role is in everything as she herself tries to figure it out.

With Girl on the Train having been a best selling book, and a hit movie, there is the additional challenge for the directors to contend with as much of the audience will know the twists and turns of the plot that initially made it so engaging. This is achieved by embracing the fact that this is a show in a different medium; it is a play. As such, the set is shifted from the train to being predominantly in Rachel’s flat, the characters are reduced down to the essentials, as Samantha Womack as Rachel remains on the stage throughout the show giving the audience a clear insight into her troubled mind.

Samantha Womack has somewhat of a marathon task in this performance not simply in remaining on stage for the duration, but in capturing the nuances of Rachel’s fluctuating character. It is a task which she is more than up to, as she brings a naked honesty to the character in her most wretched and vulnerable moments, balanced with genuinely funny comic timing in her back and forth with the D.I. Gaskill (John Dougall). Womack is well supported in this role, with Kirsty Oswald shining as Megan Hipwell; while Oswald is excellent throughout bringing life to flashbacks it is in her monologue about Megan’s lost baby that she creates a moment of heartbreaking magic on stage. For those few minutes, the audience falls utterly silent and is completely drawn into her performance.

The sets (James Cotterill) bring this show to life as it embraces the gritty London aesthetic of the book in Rachel’s grimy unkempt flat, while twisting and sliding easily into place, creating small claustrophobic spaces to give a physical impression of the mood of the piece, and is supported by some impressive lighting from Jack Knowles.

While the entire cast is strong throughout this solid murder mystery, there is a disconnect between the first and second half which does affect the audience’s engagement in the piece. The first half has such a lot of narrative and exposition to get through that is slows the story down and makes it difficult to engage with the characters. The second half, however, seems to have more of a focus and drive to it as the tension ramps up and the mystery deepens. Indeed the only blot on the entire second half is that the show should arguably finish one scene earlier, as the power of the story’s climax is lost a little with one final ‘wrapping up’ scene.

This is an interesting show, with a complex narrative which for the most part holds up post reveal and is brought to life by a talented cast, but in places the plot feels as though it has been simplified too far which, combined with the pacing issues, does at times send the play a little off the rails.

Runs until 6 July 2019 | Image: Manuel Harlan

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A complex narrative

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