Lewis Baird, United Kingdom Critic
“The Girl on the Train" by Paula Hawkins, is the latest novel to get a stage adaptation. And this adaptation is pretty special seeing as the novel in question has been a soaring hit since it was released in 2015. Following its huge popularity, fans wanted more, causing a film adaptation to be released the following year (October 2016). And now it has been adapted into a stage play, which is currently touring the UK & Ireland. I attended the press night at Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre eagerly awaiting to see how this story would translate onto stage.
The story follows Rachel Watson, whose life is currently on a downwards spiral, after her husband left her. She is struggling to get her life together, looking to alcohol to support her. However, after an altercation leaving Tom, her ex-husband's house, Rachel is put into the middle of the police investigation surrounding the disappearance of Megan Hipwell, who is the neighbour of Tom and his new wife, Anna. What happened to Megan? And did Rachel have something to do with it?
Samantha Womack is outstanding as Rachel. Samantha’s characterisation is original, filled with damage and depth, which grips the audience. This portrayal is completely different to Emily Blunt’s interpretation of Rachel, seen in the motion picture. There seems to be more of a connection with the character for the audience, and a better understanding of the desperate actions she takes. This is purely down to how much energy and believability Samantha gives this character. She shows Rachel’s vulnerability with stunning naturalism, also in scenes when Rachel is sober, we see a completely different woman, a powerful woman who clearly has her wits about her, as well as throwing in sarcasm to provide light humour so that the character is dynamic. This is a very gripping and enjoyable performance. Personally, I prefer this portrayal to the one seen within the motion picture.
Oliver Farnworth as Scott Hipwell provides us a man who is clearly concerned in regards to the on-going case, but there are also conflicting issues affecting his emotion. The depth that this character carries, was portrayed perfectly by Oliver, the audience were hooked with intrigue, and questioning the character’s suspicion. Plus, Oliver did well in shifting Scott’s dynamic with the intertwining characters featured. John Dougall is excellent as D. I. Gaskill, the dramatic and pressure cooker scenes were oriented well by John, as he pulled the audience into his rollercoaster of a conscious as we could clearly see him battling with his belief of Rachel and the evidence, he has in front of him. The personality and more in-depth outlook of this character really helped to drive the piece, in scenes which could have dropped energy, if the character was given a rather beige deminer.
Naeem Hayat raised suspicion and provided great storytelling as Kamal Abdic. This character, has a lot of dialogue and not much action, which makes it harder to keep the energy of this thriller going, however Naeem kept the audience hooked, with his emotional and naturalistic performance. Possibly the most emotional or tension-built scenes within this play are in the sections between Kamal and Rachel, this is mainly to the way Naeem radiates emotion and honesty in his performance. However, the audience still have that suspicion there, due to the complex characterisation that Naeem has provided us, as at points it seems there is even more to be unravelled. Adam Jackson-Smith is superb, providing us an on-edge mediator as Tom Watson. The relationship dynamic between Tom and Rachel is so complex and confusing, mainly because Adam delivers Tom as this strong, positive man, who seems eager to repair the damage he has placed in Rachel’s life after the divorce. The audience really enjoy his character, and see that he is trying to help her regain stability. Adam’s performance gives a very nice real positive outlook in the world of dark and shade in which “The Girl on the Train” is set. And in scenes where Tom needs to adapt and change due to being with Anna or other characters, the switch is unbelievable. This performance is one which the audience really appreciate.
Lowenna Melrose gives a strong performance as Anna Watson. Lowenna clearly has thought-out the perception of this character she wants for the audience, and she very much succeeds in the audience disliking Anna, for being bitter and cruel. There is also a great switch in the understanding the audience eventually achieves with this character. Kirsty Oswald gives us a great performance as the supporting character Megan Hipwell. There is clearly a damaged and vulnerable girl presented to us on stage, and even when the audience don’t understand the details, Kirsty still delivers this side which foreshadows what is to come, brilliantly. The devastation this character is put through, is portrayed so emotionally and it hits the audience harder than seen within the motion picture, this is mainly due to the raw naturalistic performance that Kirsty delivers. This is truly a great performance from this young actress.
Also, on stage there are two ensembles who help to take on any other characters needed, they are Matt Concannon and Phillipa Flynn.
This story has been adapted exceptionally by Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel; their script is complimented by Anthony Banks’ direction. Anthony brings this story to stage seamlessly, by making it fast paced and even though having the reduction in setting to tell this dramatic thriller, he still manages to keep the energy, tension and shock factor that came with the book, and also in the film. James Cotterill as designer fantastically provides realistic costume and places this show in a black box theatre setting. Using push in and pull out rooms and also the front flat, which works train windows and is projected on. This set is very minimalistic and yet very effective, the only issue I could see is the fact that the set did look a bit clunky to move on and off. Plus, you can hear it when over the actors when the push it off during a scene. This set is also complimented by Jack Knowles naturalistic lighting design, which adds to the overall stylization of the piece. Plus, it is made even more real by Ben and Maz Ringham’s composition and sound design.
Overall, this is a fantastic touring production, which is bound to bring in many audiences that are fans of the book or motion picture. In my personal opinion, I feel that this story is one which translates to stage phenomenally well. The characters and plot simply fit perfectly. And the actors featured in this production are the perfect casting, especially Samantha Womack, who is an extremely talented actress and an asset to theatre. If you want to see a stage thriller, get yourself booked up to see this great play on tour.
The Girl on the Train is currently playing at Captial Theatres’ Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre. Look below for information on the production and how to get tickets.