The Girl on the Train – Royal and Derngate Theatre, Northampton

Writers: Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel, based on the book by Paula Hawkins

Director: Anthony Banks

Reviewer: James Garrington

Rachel Watson’s life is a mess. Divorced, she’s living surrounded by rubbish, a large number of empty bottles, and blank periods in her memory. She longs for a different life – a life of love and happy-ever-after, of a partner and children. The life, in fact, of the couple that she sees through the train window every morning. Then one day she discovers that the woman she’s been secretly watching has disappeared, and she involves herself in the investigation – but is she trying to help, has she witnessed something important, is she actually guilty of something herself? As the search continues, she uncovers more than she could have ever dreamt of discovering.

Samantha Womack takes on the challenge of playing Rachel, and she tackles it well. She is seldom off stage for more than a minute or two through the whole play and gives a well-observed performance as an alcoholic with a sometimes tenuous grasp of reality. Her speech is slurred but clearly understandable, her movements have that air of concentration that comes from not being completely in control, and she is convincing in a rôle which has the audience questioning her motives right up to the end of the play.

Womack is joined by eight other main characters. Oliver Farnworth is equally believable as Scott Hipwell, husband of the missing woman, who becomes confused about his feelings and reactions as he tries to hold himself together. Adam Jackson-Smith plays Rachel’s ex-husband Tom, with Lowenna Melrose as his second wife Anna – another apparently happy couple who have everything that Rachel longs for – with Melrose undertaking a huge emotional journey through the play, as her initial dislike and sniping develop as she understands more about Rachel’s thoughts. Naeem Hayat gives a competent performance as the therapist who seems inexplicably willing to discuss other patients, with John Dougall as a fairly standard police character and Kirsty Oswald as missing woman Megan.

Particular credit must also go to designer James Cotterill, who has come up with a gem of a set which slides on and off stage behind the performers so the action is able to continue even as the scene is changing. Rather than the cast moving into the scene, the scene moves around the actors and it works incredibly well to keep things moving along. The result is a play that continues almost without pause, keeping the audience engaged and keeping up the tension.

The book on which this play is based rapidly became a bestseller, so it is likely that many in the audience will know how the story ends. For them, it will maybe lose some of its attraction. For anyone unfamiliar with the book though – if you are into crime drama or psychological thrillers – then this is for you. The play is not without its flaws – the actual moment of realisation that makes everything clear could do with more development for example, and some of the other points don’t quite stand up to close scrutiny – but overall the storytelling is good and it makes for an engrossing evening.

Runs Until 27 April 2019 and on tour | Image: Manuel Harlan

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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