The Girl on the Train – Orchard Theatre, Dartford

Writer: Paula Hawkins

Adaptors: Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel

Director: Anthony Banks

Reviewer: Dan English

A missing girl and an alcoholic struggling to get a grip on reality combine in this highly stylish adaptation of the hit thriller The Girl on the Train.

Samantha Womack is Rachel Watson, a woman finding it hard to adapt following a messy divorce from husband Tom (Adam Jackson-Smith), while wrestling her need for the bottle and an unusual fascination with a couple she sees from the train during her daily commute. When one of the couples goes missing, Megan, Womack’s Rachel takes it upon herself to investigate the disappearance, as the façade of her life, as well as Megan’s, unfolds. This stage adaptation moves slightly away from the train focused setting of the novel, although it is perhaps a smart move in order to expand more creatively on the characters within it. That said, it’s a production which does hinder itself through some clumsy dialogue, which drags characters in directions they don’t necessarily suit.

Womack creates the fragile and unstable Rachel with aplomb, and from the first scene there is a suspicion about her character and her own role in Megan’s disappearance. This is an emotionally draining performance, with Rachel rarely not being the centre of attention for the piece, and so it is particularly impressive that Womack keeps the intensity of her performance consistent. As Rachel’s sanity is question by others and herself, Womack does well to create a subtle interpretation of the character, and manipulates the script well to match her characterisation.

Oliver Farnworth, Scott, Megan’s husband, is swept up in Rachel’s quest for the truth, and Farnworth succeeds in creating a bereft husband who is difficult to like, and casts suspicion over his own role. Far worth’s brings a fragility to a role, but also creates it with an element of uneasiness, especially during a scene regarding a magpie, which ups the tension during the awkwardly tense first half. Jackson-Smith’s Tom is created with an uneasy personality, and as layers of his character are chipped away, Jackson-Smith does well to present a multi-faceted depiction of Rachel’s ex husband.

As well as this, the performance’s ensemble cast aide in creating a genuinely interesting whodunnit, from the off. John Dougall’s DI Gaskell dour wit drives the plot forward amid the confusing and disorientating eyes of Rachel which we see the narrative through. Kirsty Oswald as the disappeared Megan also haunts scenes well, appearing just long enough to leave a lasting impression without spoiling the mystery. Anthony Banks uses intriguing direction to explore Megan’s difficult background as it is explored through numerous flashbacks, and Oswald presents this well as her past is revealed.

One of the standout aspects of this production is the set design by James Cotterill. Cotterill’s design is easily manipulated, and allows for very swift changes to keep the tension bubbling away. The set’s claustrophobic approach creates tight spaces which enhances the intimately tense scenes, but give the impression that we too are peering into the character’s domestic lives just like Rachel is. What is also significant about the set is how easy technical theatre is immersed within it, with the design incorporating well-designed projections to aide in the development of Rachel’s wavering sanity.

This is an interesting production that just about keeps in it most of the thrill that came with its book predecessor. Its transfer to the stage is ambitious, and somewhat successful as it steers a little away from its stimulus to create a unique piece of theatre.

Runs until 12 May 2019 | Image: Marlan Harlan

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