DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

The Girl on the Train – West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

Director: Joe Murphy

Based on the novel by: Paula Hawkins

Adapted by: Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel

Reviewer: Ruth Jepson

Have you ever looked out of the train window on your way to work, and made up stories about the homes you see, and the people inside them? Given them names, characters and stories? Have you tried to work out clues about who they were? How about why they are suddenly missing?

Such is the story of Rachel Watson (Jill Halfpenny), a functioning alcoholic, recently fired and divorced, but still taking the train into London every morning, and fantasising about the life of a couple she sees from the window. Until one day the wife, Megan (Florence Hall), goes missing, and the police come knocking on Rachel’s door. A new addiction is born, and Rachel must confront the holes in her memory to find out what has happened, and, more importantly, if she had anything to do with it.

Halfpenny’s Rachel is flawed and obsessive, an edge of mania apparent in her performance. The realism she brings to the character allows the audience to both empathise with and judge Rachel in equal measures. She never leaves the stage, and her ability to stay in the moment is wondrous. The rest of the cast, although good, simply cannot compete on Halfpenny’s level (although Adam Best as ex-husband Tom is certainly close). Some slightly over-dramatic and under believable acting aside, however, the cast is strong and keeps up well the frantic pace of the story, reflective of both passing trains as well as Rachel’s recovering memories and investigatory discoveries.

The set by Lily Arnold is reminiscent of a train carriage, the simple dressing taking us from scene to scene. Combined with the pulsing lights designed by Lizzie Powell, it becomes almost a character in itself, especially as the story thunders towards climax like an unstoppable underground train. The backdrop is dominated throughout by a huge piece of art depicting a deep black hole, and although a tad heavy-handed of a metaphor, this set piece serves to remind the audience of the missing pieces and dark secrets not just of the characters, but also lurking within themselves.

The Girl on the Train is a piece of must-see theatre for anyone who enjoys crime investigation and a good whodunit, as well as anyone with a fascination around human psychology, and the way memories can be unreliable. It is not a prerequisite to have read Paula Hawkins best-selling book, or to have seen the film adaptation – in fact, the twists and turns of the track are probably more engaging if you haven’t.

Runs until Saturday 9 June 2018 | Image: Richard Davenport

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. 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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