The Girl on the Train

Adapted by Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel, based on the novel by Paula Hawkins and Dreamworks film
Simon Friend, Amblin Partners and Josh Andrews
Theatre Royal, Nottingham

Samantha Womack (Rachel Watson) and Adam Jackson-Smith (Tom Watson) Credit: Manuel Harlan
Oliver Farnworth (Scott Hipwell) and Samantha Womack (Rachel Watson) Credit: Manuel Harlan
Naeem Hayat (Kamal Abdic) and Kirsty Oswald (Megan Hipwell) Credit: Manuel Harlan

Paula Hawkins’s 2015 psychological thriller The Girl on the Train has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide, so there was no mystery about why Hollywood would come calling and want to turn the story into a film.

That’s not always a formula for success. I found Tate Taylor’s big-screen adaptation disappointing. Although Emily Blunt gave a superb depiction of the lead character Rachel Watson, you didn’t feel sorry for her predicament. There was little tension in the tale. And there appeared to be no logical reason for moving the action from London to New York.

Now Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel have come up with a stage version which is pulling into theatres around the country for most of 2019.

The book looks at the story through the eyes of three women whereas the stage show concentrates solely on Rachel Watson, the woman whose observations while sitting in a railway carriage form the basis of the adaptation.

The play hurtles straight into the action, Rachel waking up in her dingy kitchen surrounded by empty bottles of alcohol, still in her drab clothes from the previous day. She has a gash on her head but is unable to recall how it happened, like many recent events in her tangled life.

Her ex-husband Tom arrives to tell her that Megan Hipwell, a woman who lives nearby, is missing and the police are questioning locals about her disappearance.

On her daily commute, Rachel has watched Megan and imagined her idyllic life with loving husband Scott. But then Rachel sees Megan with another man. Was she unfaithful? Did Rachel get involved in some way? And was she responsible for Megan’s disappearance?

There are plenty of twists and turns as amateur sleuth Rachel’s attempts to solve the case of missing Megan keep hitting the buffers. The tension increases considerably when Megan is found dead. The resolution which relies on a fairly stupid mistake may not be to everyone’s satisfaction but there’s enough packed into under two hours to keep everyone on the edge of their seats.

As Rachel, Samantha Womack is on stage throughout. She gives a far more convincing performance than Emily Blunt did in the film, eliciting empathy for her struggle to recollect events through a boozy haze.

On a couple of occasions she gets up a head of steam and becomes hysterical, almost losing control when no one will take any notice of her. Womack pitches it just right.

Hers is not the only commendable performance: Kirsty Oswald as Megan has an almost ghostly presence as her story is told in flashbacks; Oliver Farnworth shines as her husband Scott who isn’t completely trustworthy; and Adam Jackson-Smith shows that Tom isn’t the ideal candidate for husband of the year.

There are also neat cameos from Naeem Hayat as therapist Kamal Abdic, who is as flawed as many of the other characters, and John Dougall as worldly wise Detective Inspector Gaskill.

Anthony Banks directs with assuredness, maintaining a fast pace as well as injecting a modicum of humour into what is largely a dark piece.

With a clever set by James Cotterill, expert lighting by Jack Knowles, telling sound by Ben and Max Ringham and Andrzej Goulding’s thrilling projection, The Girl on the Train is a first-class production that’s definitely on the right track.

Reviewer: Steve Orme

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