TO ME, one of the most satisfying things about travelling by train – and I’m talking here of course of sitting ensconced in a comfortable window seat, not toe-to-toe on a crowded commuter cattle truck – is the ever changing kaleidoscopic view.
Outside is a world to which you can add your own fantasies, giving life to the people in their houses and gardens as you see it, not necessarily how it is.
Essentially, this is the premise at the core of ‘The Girl On The Train;’ a thriller adapted for the stage by Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel from the best-selling novel by Paula Hawkins.
Samantha Womack engages from the get-go, putting in a first class performance as Rachel Watson, the train commuter who has developed a perfect chocolate box story around a couple she sees most days in their house as her train rattles by.
Rachel’s imaginary life-players are Scott and Megan, played by Oliver Farnworth and Kirsty Oswald, both of whom deftly develop their characters on this high-speed episodic journey. In Rachel’s daydream, the life they are living is the exact opposite of the broken marriage she is still reeling from. Whilst she has become a borderline alcoholic, her ex-hubby Tom (an excellent many-layered portrayal by Adam Jackson-Smith) has remarried and has a newborn baby to accompany his new wife.
When Rachel doesn’t see Megan from her train window one day but spots an incumbent embracing Scott, her perfect vision is shattered like a piece of irreplaceable crystal. Megan is indeed missing and Rachel turns drunken super sleuth to find out what has happened.
There I will leave the plot – as with all good ‘whodunits’ if I told you it was the butler (which it wasn’t!) it would spoil your theatre trip – suffice it to say there is many a metaphorical railway siding and deserted station to go down until the final destination.
Anthony Banks’ direction is tight, fast-moving and makes full use of gadgetry. James Cotterill has designed a set that moves in and out of our windows of vision so that we also observe the goings on from a train-like perspective. This feeling is heightened by dramatic sound design by Ben and Max Ringham and stunning projection effects by Andrzej Goulding.
Something must have happened to this production as it received very poor reviews on its short West End run, yet on this, the Malvern leg of a long UK-wide tour, I can say with all honesty that it is a most agreeable and satisfying watch.
Remember Les Mis and Blood Brothers initially suffered the same West End critical fate – then went on the road and returned triumphantly like Roman armies re-entering their capital to roars and garlands of approval. I think the same may well happen here.
A whodunit for the modern stage and well worth seeing.
The Girl on the Train is at Malvern Theatres until Monday, October 28.
Click here for times, tickets and more information.