The Girl on the Train @ King’s Theatre

Image contribution:
Manuel Harlan

Based on the novel by Paula Hawkins

Adapter: Rachel Wagstaff & Duncan Abel

Director: Anthony Banks

Based on the best-seller book by Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train stage version also follows a moderately successful feature film adaptation. Starring Samantha Womack, the touring production offers a modern mystery which also tackles the usual thriller tropes of alcoholism, control and manipulation.

We all do it, see someone on public transport and give them a narrative. A life we might choose to lead. Rachel Watson spends her life aimlessly travelling by train, the journey offering a sort of fix which is usually helped along with a bottle or two. When a woman she spies on goes missing, it seems only her patchy memory and voyeuristic habits can fill in the blanks.

The mystery is drip fed to us, slowly pooling. There’s just enough to keep us interested, a few false leads pushing even the best sleuths into dead ends. Even if you do manage to connect the dots – Wagstaff & Abel’s adaptation knows just how to keep a few pieces of the puzzle in the shadows.

Samantha Womack’s Rachel is a mess, unable to do even the smallest of tasks despite her best efforts. At first, the performance takes a little warming to. Once she finds her footing though, the emotional delivery, particularly in scenes shared with Jackson-Smith is enthralling. The chemistry the two have is natural, offering a realistic humour one would suspect from a divorced couple.

Serving to break up the tension, while furthering the narrative is D.I. Gaskill, who despite suffering from similarities with most fictional detectives, does offer a few fresh takes. John Dougall’s performance is certainly one with gusto. No-one delivers a poor performance, but characters such as Kamal or victim Megan seem less invested.

With a second-half outshining its first in a variety of ways, the production seems unbalanced. Leaving a lot to set-up for the finale, the first Act has a tremendous amount to get across in a rather short time. What this results in is a second half which can tackle issues harder, whilst offering a terrifically chilling performance from Adam Jackson-Smith as Tom. Jackson-Smith, together with Womack and Melrose take the production into a more horrific turn than just murder and mystery, into the realms of struggles with alcoholism, abuse and male-dominated control.

This gas-lighting, to manipulate one into doubting their own sanity or cognitive rationale is not a subject to treat lightly. Womack carries a dignity to the character of Rachel, and whilst the script doesn’t allow for too in-depth an examination, enough is offered to respect the issue. Anna Waston, Tom’s new wife played by Lowenna Melrose, however, is played a little two-dimensional. Her only real development comes a little too late to redeem the character.

As the train carriage clatters, it enhances the atmosphere – a small touch from Ben & Max Ringham’s sound design. What does draw unwelcome attention however, is when the set pieces themselves clatter. The transitions are the worst part of an otherwise well-performed production. The set design itself is practical, at times highly detailed, but impractical in its scene changes.

A solid mystery with multiple layers, The Girl on the Train makes for an interesting piece of theatre. Its possibilities are high with an enigmatic narrative which could make for a long-running piece. Despite strong performances from Womack and Jackson-Smith, it all feels a tad too clunky. It fumbles off the rails in segments, distorting seamless acting with poor transitions.

Review originally published for Reviewshub:
https://www.thereviewshub.com/the-girl-on-the-train-kings-theatre-edinburgh/