The Girl on the Train – The Alexandra, Birmingham

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

Director: Anthony Banks

Reviewer: Clare White

Rachel Watson’s life has spiraled out of control. Lonely, divorced and teetering on the edge of a serious breakdown, she continues to catch the commuter train to London every day despite being fired from her job, a result of her excessive drinking. The train journey takes her straight past the home she once shared with her ex-husband Tom before everything fell apart – the home Tom now shares with his new wife Anna and their baby daughter.

Desperate to escape her own life, Rachel spends her aimless journeys fantasising about Scott and Megan Hipwell, a seemingly perfect couple who live a few doors down from Tom and Anna, and who appear to have everything she has lost. Her unhealthy interest in the couple takes a dark turn when Megan is reported missing, and thanks to her memory blackouts, Rachel finds herself both an unreliable witness and a prime suspect.

Paula Watkins’ best-selling psychological thriller and subsequent 2016 DreamWorks film has been cleverly adapted for the stage by Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel. Told through a series of flashbacks and fantasy scenes, the use of cinematic projections, lighting and quick set changes, with dramatic speeding train-inspired compositions successfully creates an atmospheric and intense theatre spectacle.

The rapid pace of the play works well with the train metaphor as, with most locomotive journeys, there is an urgency to reach the final destination. However, the exploration of complex themes including alcoholism, depression and voyeurism in just two hours or so doesn’t allow for much character development, despite some lengthy dialogue. It’s a huge credit to ex-Eastenders actress Samantha Womack, captivating as Rachel, who manages to gain sympathy for the erratic alcoholic without the audience knowing much about the sad circumstances that led her there.

On stage throughout in an emotionally demanding role, Womack’s frustration and determination are convincingly profound as she tries to piece together her actions on the night of Megan’s disappearance. Her performance is well supported by an equally strong cast, including Adam Jackson-Smith as her charming ex-husband Tom, John Dougall providing some sarcastic light relief as DI Gaskill and Oliver Farnworth, who plays Scott Hipwell’s suggestive violent streak very well. Kirsty Oswald also makes a great impact in her short bursts on stage as Scott’s elusive wife Megan.

A powerful punch of escapism, The Girl on the Train is a gripping and intense play, visually stylish and slickly executed.

Runs Until 31 August 2019 | Image: Manuel Harlan

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A powerful punch of escapism

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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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