The Girl on The Train opens its Edinburgh theatrical run at The King’s Theatre this week (Monday 25th to Saturday 30th March), and if this opening night is any indication of what is to come, then this show is going to be a huge success (it is touring nationally until October 2019). This show is adapted from the hugely successful psychological thriller novel by British author Paula Hawkins. The story was also re-located from its London setting to New York in the 2016 film version (a move that did not please many fans of the book). I have to be one of the few people who have not read the book (only a synopsis of it) or seen the film, so this review is based purely on this work as a stage production.
For all the book fans out there, the first, and most obvious, thing to point out is that this is a version of the story adapted for the stage and sheer time constraints mean that much of the lead in to the story as our “girl on the train” watches someone else’s life in small moments through her train carriage window has been eliminated and we pick up the story with our mystery woman being reported missing. This means that we are very quickly into the unfolding life and fragmented memories of our “Girl on The Train” – Rachel Watson (Samantha Womack), a missing person’s investigation.
This story is not an easy one to bring to the stage as, even in this format, we require many scene changes and of course a train journey that unfold over many days. These problems are cleverly solved here by good set design (set & costume James Cotterill) that makes full use of the space at The King’s Theatre. The use of having our train carriage windows on set as you arrive to take your seats with the train journey visuals running past them is clever and pulls you immediately into the story before it even begins. Interestingly to me, these visuals are black and white and the journey that Rachel takes is in colour.
In this stage production, everything has to centre around Rachel. As an audience we have to fully believe in her as a person and Rachel is also the link to every other character in this story, and without a very good Rachel this story will simply fall apart. Here though, there are never any worries about that happening as Samantha Womack is on superb form as Rachel giving us an insightful performance of a woman with many personal problems that at times seem to be leading her to a self-destructive end. A good main supporting cast of Adam Jackson-Smith (Tom Watson), Oliver Farnworth (Scott Hipwell), Lowenna Melrose (Anna Watson), Kirsty Oswald (Megan Hipwell), Naeem Hayat (Kamal Abdic) and John Dougall (D.I. Gaskill) make this complex narrative run smoothly at all times and along the way take us as an audience down many misleading twists and turns. John Dougall (D.I. Gaskill) probably has the best character to play here as his weary Detective Inspector gets some wonderful lines, and there is also a real connectivity between him and Samantha Womack that creates some very funny moments of dark humour. Oddly for a thriller, there are many more moments of unexpected humour in this script too.
Time is always the villain in any theatrical staging of a thriller, and the ending does feel a little bit rushed and almost an anti-climax but, for me, that is probably because I got far more interested in this work as a psychological drama as Rachel is a very complex person and there were just so many more layers here for Samantha Lomax to peel away here and expose if time had been available. In fact, all of our central characters have a rare complexity to them and time constraints meant that we only ever skimmed the surface of what was lying below everyone here and driving them to act as they did.
The Girl on the Train has obvious window watching parallels to the classic story and film “Rear Window”, but there is something underneath both stories that we all can probably recognise. How many of us have, for whatever reason, observed snippets of someone else’s life and wondered what goes on there when we are not looking at them? That unfolding in this story of what goes on when you are not observing is really the driving force of this story and Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel have done a good job adapting this story for the stage along with director Anthony Banks .
Review by Tom King