The Girl on the Train at the Lyceum Theatre Sheffield Review

24-29 June 2019

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The Girl on the Train

Reviewed by Jenny Seymour

For those of you who love a classic “whodunnit”, then this is the show for you! With twists galore, you are left hanging at the end of the first Act to debate – whodunnit! 

Without giving away any of the twists, this play is about Rachel, an alcoholic who has been left devastated by her failing marriage; blaming herself because she was unable to have children, only to find that her ex-husband has been able to have children with his new wife. Her only purpose in life becomes when she believes that she has some information that may help an investigation regarding a couple she sees on her daily commute past her old marital home. She becomes fixated with the couple and creates a fantasy depicting them as a perfect couple deeply in love, so much so that the lines between reality and her fantasy may become blurred. Will you guess what happened to poor Megan and the role that Rachel Watson plays in finding out?

This play is adapted from the award-winning internationally acclaimed novel by Paula Hawkins. If you have not read this book, I recommend it after watching the play. The play is a faster-paced version of the film, which is perhaps no bad thing in parts, but equally therefore doesn’t have the opportunity to explore some of the more underlying psychological themes of this thrilling tale of love, fantasy and abuse. It’s a difficult task to take such an acclaimed piece of work and bring it to the stage for wider audiences: the play does not have the same sense of suspense and certainly does not keep you gripped throughout. Instead, this compelling thrilling novel seems to have been turned into a TV police drama.

Unfortunately, as well for this production, they had teething problems last night and the audience were told that there were some technical problems, so we had to re-watch the first few minutes. For me, this then meant that I tumbled off the journey that the play was trying to take me on. The sound was much louder than it should have been at times and the set had to be brought on stage, rather than gliding from back to front stage as I think it should have done, so it lost a bit of that gripping tense momentum that it was supposed to create. You also lost a bit of the sense of time at first. The series of events leading to this investigation took place on the Saturday night, but it would have been good if we’d have gained a sense of the time period that Rachel had been taking her train journey before then and the time over which she had established her voyeuristic “relationship” with Megan and Scott (or rather Jess and Jason!).

Having said that, the cinematography of the train at the beginning of the play and the initial appearance of Rachel Watson (played by Sam Womack) was haunting. Indeed, the use of this cinematography to show the speed of the passing scenery from the train throughout the play was done really well.

The set (once settled) is simple and yet effective. You understand the grandeur of the house that Rachel’s ex-husband now occupies with his new wife Anna and their young baby Evie versus the squalor that Rachel now finds herself in. The way the chairs came onto stage facing the audience during the therapy scenes was also unusual and enabled the background stories of each character to be played out to the audience behind.

There was another good scene when Rachel catches the train back from her old neighbourhood after visiting Scott, she is left reeling with all of the thoughts in her head blurring past and present. She sends herself into an alcoholic stupor, blacking out and sleeping through the next day.

The 2nd Act begins to bring all of the characters together and the audience are able to try to guess the conclusion. Would you be a match for the Taggart-like detective on stage (at one point he even says “murder” in the same Glaswegian accent!!)? However, in parts, the script tries to spell out the links, whereas sometimes it would be good for the audience to have to try to work through these links and, as I have previously said, there are times where you would hope for certain underlying issues to be explored, but they never quite get there. For example, the self-doubt of Rachel – did she really believe she could have been involved in this incident? You were left feeling that she just wanted to “help” the police to find out what happened to her fantastical friend; and you never really believed that Scott was capable of this crime; and then the relationship of Tom and Anna – at no point did the audience get to see into their relationship.

Special mention has to go to Kirsty Oswald, who plays the ill-fated Megan Hipwell. The physical acting that takes place when we ultimately find out her fate was superb and the heart-moving scene where she explains to her therapist her background story was emotionally delivered. There were some less-believable performances that perhaps turned the final few scenes into more pantomime than gripping thriller and there were some scenes that made the audience giggle when perhaps they should have been disgusted or upset at the direction the character were going in.  

A classic whodunnit with all the twists that this entails – will you guess what happened that Saturday night and the role that Rachel Watson plays in finding out?

Rating: 3/5

Tickets cost from £19 (booking fees may apply).

The Girl on a Train is at the Lyceum Theatre in Sheffield from 24-29 June 2019, for more information or to book tickets visit www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk or call the box office on 0114 249 6000.

Please note:  If you park in the local Q Park car park, remember to claim your 1 hour FREE ticket from one of the members of the theatre staff before you leave – I forgot last night and the car park cost me £7.50!

Lyceum Theatre, Norfolk St, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, S1 1DA ‎| 0114 249 6000

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