Writer: Paula Hawkins
Adaptors: Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel
Director: Anthony Banks
Reviewer: Alice Fowler
No one travels by train without gazing into the backs of houses, wondering about the lives of those who live there. From this universal voyeuristic instinct, Paula Hawkins created her 2015 publishing sensation, The Girl on the Train; swiftly adapted as a successful film, starring Emily Blunt. Now comes the stage version, with Samantha Womack as the vodka-swilling Rachel Watson, who becomes obsessively involved with a couple she watches on her morning commute.
Designer James Cotterill plays on everyone’s desire to peer into other people’s homes, with a set that revolves seamlessly between Rachel’s sordid flat, lined with empty bottles; the design-conscious pad of the Hipwells, whom she observes; and the home which Tom, her former husband, now shares with his new wife Anna and their baby.
Womack, best known as Ronnie Mitchell in Eastenders, is wholly convincing as the bitter, drink-sozzled Rachel, her memory littered with alarming black holes. Even her job in marketing (what else?) turns out to be a fiction, for we learn she was sacked six months earlier. When Megan Hipwell – the beautiful, fragile woman she has watched from the train – is found murdered, the gaps in Rachel’s memory become crucial. What really happened – and what are fantasies, borne of alcohol-fuelled jealousy? Did Rachel even kill Megan herself?
Hawkins explores many tropes of early 21st-century life: the corrosiveness of childlessness and IVF; coercive control within relationships, which we now might know as ‘gaslighting’; and the need to pour out our troubles to a psychiatrist who – as emerges here – may be as vulnerable as ourselves. We see, too, the loneliness of modern life, in which other peoples’ lives appear so much more desirable than our own.
A strong cast makes this a compelling evening, even to those who already know the story’s final twist. Oliver Farnworth (familiar as Andy Carver from Coronation Street) plays Scott Hipwell, husband of the missing Megan, into whose life Rachel insinuates herself. Adam Jackson-Smith and Lowenna Melrose, as the current Mr and Mrs Watson, make fine work of the smug couple-with-new-baby. Add John Dougall as the laconic D.I. Gaskill, tasked with discovering the truth, and the stage is set for an edge-of-the-seat evening in which nothing is as it seems.
Runs until 13 July 2019 | Image: Manuel Harlan