Reviewed by Kathryn Carr
As someone who loved the book and enjoyed the film, when I heard ‘The Girl on the Train’ was coming to the stage, I was there. Familiar with the story, I was immediately curious as to how it would be adapted for a theatre audience. As we made our way to the Alhambra Theatre in Bradford, my friend and I discussed and laughed at our ideas as to how the all-important mode of transport, as per title, would appear. More later.
First things first, I had a fantastic evening at the Alhambra. As a fan of thrillers, this play didn’t disappoint. The story follows Rachel, who since splitting with her now ex-husband Tom, has hit the bottle hard. When Megan, who lives just a few doors down from Tom goes missing, Rachel becomes embroiled in the investigation. We quickly learn that Rachel has watched Megan from afar; the train on her daily commute passing Megan’s house. We find out Rachel was both involved in an alcohol-induced alteration with Tom’s new wife Anna and that she was in the area on the night Megan went missing. Rachel senses she’s somehow linked to Megan’s disappearance but having drunk far too much on that fateful night, she’s struggling to remember what happened. It’s a modern ‘Whodunnit?’
Samantha Womack (aka EastEnder’s Ronnie Mitchell) takes the part of Rachel and although admittedly I was dubious (I wouldn’t want to have to follow Emily Blunt’s film portrayal of the same character), she does the role more than justice. Her portrayal of a young woman who has become reliant on alcohol to get her through the day is believable. Annoying, irresponsible; you just want to shake Rachel, but Samantha succeeds in getting you to warm to the character, rooting for her to get her life back on track. However, the way in which the character becomes involved in the investigation is just too quick, easy and unrealistic. I’d say the fault is more Adaptor / Producer Error, with Rachel swiftly finding her way into the murder victim’s home as if by magic, getting an appointment with the victim’s therapist with less than a click of her fingers and somehow gaining access to sensitive police information. Though Samantha’s portrayal of the character was credible, the plot was implausible. It kind of blew my mind.
The production is ‘dark’, dealing with serious issues including domestic violence, the loss of a child and infidelity. That’s not to mention murder. However, the play in parts, is also darkly funny. The book and the film certainly don’t evoke laughter whilst the stage version definitely attempts to inject elements of humour. At first, I felt uncomfortable about laughing; it just didn’t seem right and that, I believe, was the influence of ‘The Girl on the Train’ in its other two formats. Newbies I’m sure, wouldn’t have questioned letting out a laugh. In turn, the whole performance will see differing responses and reviews from audiences, depending on their previous engagement with the work from author Paula Hawkins. Me? I gradually eased myself into a little chuckle, albeit, a little nervously.
The play is also dark in terms of lighting and this together with the dramatic music, helps create tension. The staging is simple with just five small sets depicting ‘rooms’ in various locations, in a very ‘to the point’ manner. The ‘train’ is exceptionally clever if somewhat underused, with the train carriage structure with ‘Rachel’s commute view’ projected on it, taking you on her journey. The use of flashbacks with ‘encounters’ taking place in the background as Rachel recovers her memories at the forefront of the stage really worked. The production gets you right inside Rachel’s head.
For me, the character I struggled with was Scott, the husband of missing Megan, played by Oliver Farnworth. I had real difficulty believing he was even a tad bit troubled by the disappearance of his wife. If this was to throw suspicion his way, it was a tad overkill. For me, Oliver didn’t fit the part. It was like injecting a touch of ‘Downton Abbey’ into an episode of ‘Cold Feet’; his voice, body language and mannerisms just didn’t do it for me. My friend, on the other hand, seemed quite taken with him.
The play is heavy on dialogue with little action but that doesn’t mean to say it isn’t gripping. It held my attention. One of my favourite scenes of the production was an almost-monologue, performed by Kirsty Oswald who plays Megan. In it, she reveals how her troubled past has led to certain behaviour towards her husband. It’s pretty touching. Kirsty does emotion well.
The plots’ twists and turns launch suspicion from character to character and I suspect, if you go to see this show with no prior knowledge, it’ll really keep you guessing. For me, the fact that I knew exactly where it was headed didn’t detract from my enjoyment. The story is told in just over two hours, but the last ten minutes seemed somewhat rushed in order to wrap up the mystery; mislaying some key emotion and reducing the value of the performance as a whole.
‘The Girl on the Train’ has some fantastic moments and for a fan of the book or thrillers in general, is definitely worth a look. There’ll be things you like, things you love and things you wish had gone missing with Megan Hipwell.
I saw ‘The Girl on the Train’ at The Alhambra Theatre in Bradford, whose 1,400 seats where pretty much filled on the opening night. The Alhambra, built in 1914 is a jewel in Bradford’s crown, attracting the very best in star names and live entertainment to the city. We had interval drinks in the Laidler Lounge, a luxurious room that complements the splendour of the auditorium; you can update your booking to gain VIP access, which includes a programme and glass of Champagne on arrival. You can also book a pre-theatre meal at the sumptuous Restaurant 1914. The Theatre is conveniently central to the City, with car parks all round and just a ten minute walk to the train station.
Tickets cost from £17.50 to £31.50 (booking fees may apply).
The Girl on the Train is at the Alhambra Theatre in Bradford from 10-14 September 2019, for more information or to book tickets visit www.bradford-theatres.co.uk or call the box office on 01274 432000.
Alhambra Theatre, Morley Street, Bradford, BD7 1AJ | 01274 432000