REVIEW The Girl on the Train

06
February
2019

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REVIEW ‘The Girl on The Train’ – Mayflower Theatre, 5th February 2019

If you have to catch a train this week, make sure it’s the one this girl is on. And if you like dark, mysterious yarns based on best-selling novels, you’re going to love this one.

Paula Hawkins’ psychological thriller of the same name took the world by storm only four years ago, selling zillions of copies on both sides of the Pond.

Then came the big budget film starring Emily Brunt, set not in the outskirts of London but New York. It met with mixed reviews but several nominations and awards nonetheless.

A daily train commute is the catalyst for this tense, fast paced thriller and your first impression of a train speeding through a suburban – on stage as a projected image long before curtain up – sets the tone for this mystery and from the outset the lighting, projected images and darkness play as important parts as the actors themselves.

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“How are they going to do the train scene?” was one of the first questions I asked myself. The commuter train is, after all, the place where this all starts, with our downtrodden, pathetic divorcee peering into her ex’s back garden day after day and one day witnessing a scene that sets her on a collision course with him, his new wife, the fantasy couple she has also part-conjured in her mind, the bottle and, of course, the police. Actually, the train scenes are fairly minimal but effective, again augmented by the use of projection and lighting/sound effects.

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Samantha Womack, fresh from her TV roles as EastEnders’ Ronnie Mitchell and her recent appearance as DI Kate Ashton in ‘Silent Witness’, gives a very powerful and heartfelt performance as Rachel Watson, the girl with the rail card, an understandable drink problem, untimely blackouts and an unhealthy obsession with the extra marital affairs of others. Womack is particularly good at putting over the isolation, the pressure and futility that her child-less and lonely character feels, without overdoing it. Less is more.

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A great supporting cast work around her, including Adam Jackson-Smith as her estranged husband Tom, Corrie’s Oliver Farnworth as Scott Hipwell and the enigmatic victim, Megan, played so, so, sympathetically by Kirsty Oswald, who absolutely steals the show with one tearful monologue. John Dougall as DI Gaskill, has all the dour Scot’s humorous lines and makes the most of them (as do the audience for a little light relief).

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The Mayflower (amazingly splendid from its makeover last summer) is a big venue with a huge stage so the wheeled-in room sets depicting Rachel’s grubby kitchen and the two ‘identical’ houses on a revolving dais look a little lost at first, presumably being designed for smaller stages on the six month tour.

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It takes a while to visually adjust and to focus on the centre of the stage but you soon get used to it and are drawn into the fast paced scenes by the use of lighting, moody sound tracks, back lighting and, naturally, loads of atmospheric smoke in the second half.

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It is difficult to review ‘The Girl on The Train’ without giving away any spoilers but suffice to say that the twists and turns, the tension and the ‘reveal’ all contribute to make this a genuine thriller; no gore, no guts, but an intriguing story well told and absolutely faithful to the original Hawkins novel.

Keeping track of the much used in-scene, on-stage flashbacks where you see in the background what the character in the foreground is describing, demands concentration but as the story develops and the characters with it, the style of storytelling evolves and in no time at all it’s over. It’s not a long play by any means but I was staggered by how quickly the first hour went by in a flash (always a good sign of being immersed in top-notch entertainment, in my book).

‘The Girl on The Train’ runs at The Mayflower until Saturday 9th before moving on to Richmond Theatre and another twenty UK venues. Catch this train at www.mayflower.org.uk/whats-on (matinées on Thursday and Saturday).

David Cradduck

Images: Helen Maybanks