DramaReviewSouth East

The Girl on the Train – Theatre Royal, Brighton

Writer: Paula Hawkins

Adapters: Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel

Director: Anthony Banks

Reviewer: Simon Topping

The scene is set in a grim London flat, with the main character being sick into a pizza box. Welcome to the addled world of only just functioning alcoholic, Rachel Watson (Samatha Womack).

Rachel’s life has fallen apart, her husband has divorced her and remarried a younger woman. They now have a baby together, something Rachel and her ex Tom (Adam Jackson-Smith) couldn’t do. This has hit Rachel hard. She is still obsessed with Tom and regularly interrupts him in his new life, focusing her anger towards Tom’s new partner Anna (Lowenna Melrose).

Being able to see her old house from the train in her daily commute intensify Rachel’s feelings of loss and depression. It is from her carriage that she sees Megan Hipwell (Kirsty Oswald), a few doors down from Tom, live out a life she fantasises could be hers. From the train, Rachel glimpses moments from Megan’s life and this becomes her voyeuristic fascination and when she finds out Megan has disappeared she puts herself in the middle of the investigation to try and find out why for herself.

Adapted from Paula Hawkins’ 2015 best seller of the same name and the subsequent Hollywood film, the stage play sees the return of location from the shiny US suburbs to a more gritty London aesthetic. The set design, wonderfully created by James Cotterill, exemplifies this well. Rachel’s flat is gloriously shabby; you can almost smell the booze and food remnants emanating from the grimy design of it. The rest of the staging is equally impressive; from the cinematic train windows to the simplicity of the audience-facing therapist room, the set does not only provide locations for actors to work in but moves the piece stylishly along playing a key component in captivating the room as it masterly shifts, slides and twists into place.

The play is best if you have not seen the movie or read the book but the production manages to keep the action gripping by reducing the story to the bare essentials, cutting out peripheral characters and extraneous detail. The plot maintains an unwavering focus on Rachel and the battle she has with her demons, self-doubt and shambolic nature, which serves the story and pace of the piece very well. She is the perfect unreliable witness, pitied by some and pilloried by others.

As the heart of the play and its star, Womack holds the action together well. Never once off stage, not even for the tiniest of breathers, she dazzles with her combination of humour and pathos in an intense performance of great gravitas and high charisma. Her scenes of despair and questioning are mesmerising to watch but equally so are the moments where she sardonically spars with DI Gaskill (John Dougall) to produce some funny, laugh out loud, moments.

The rest of the cast support Womack well. Dougall particularly has time to shine as a world-weary cop as does Jackson-Smith as the increasingly complicated ex. Oswald gives a stirring performance as the lost and lonely Megan Hipwell in a series of moving flashbacks and Coronation Street’s Oliver Farnworth warms into his role as the suspicious husband of the missing girl, Scott Hipwell.

As the tension and evidence escalate in the second half the room is left wondering if Rachel is the protagonist rather than the simple by-stander she claims to be and, as more is revealed about Megan, the play is driven towards a suspenseful and thrilling climax.

The mystery thriller genre is a difficult one to pull off on the stage but here it is exhibited superbly. Everything has been thrown at it to make it successful. The sound and lighting are first-rate, the set is magical, in a very grubby way, and the acting, especially from Womack is exemplary, making The Girl on the Train a thoroughly enjoyable evening at the theatre: a must see.

Runs till 22 June 2019 and on tour | Image: Manuel Harlan

Review Overview

Reviews Hub Score

A Gripping Yarn

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The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. We aim to review all professional types of theatre, whether that be Commercial, Repertory or Fringe as well as Comedy, Music, Gigs etc.

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