‘The Girl on the Train’ review

Theatre, Drama
2 out of 5 stars
The Girl on the Train, Duke of York's Theatre, 2019
© Manuel Harlan Samantha Womack

Time Out says

2 out of 5 stars

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Chugging potboiler adaptation of the smash thriller novel

Popular novels aren’t allowed into my ivory tower, and inevitably I have not read Paula Hawkins’s smash 2015 potboiler ‘The Girl on the Train’, which has sold a bazillion copies and spawned a hit film starring Emily Blunt.

I'll give it some credit, though – a flick through a synopsis suggests that it has a level of creativity that this stage version by Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel lacks. 

Here it’s presented as a melodramatic mystery wherein barely-functioning, blackout-prone alcoholic Rachel Watson (Samantha Womack) becomes embroiled in the disappearance of Megan Hipwell (Kirsty Oswald), a woman Rachel used to observe from the train. It transpires that Rachel may have been the last person to see Megan before she disappeared – if only she were sober enough to remember anything about it.

As I understand it, the book makes a great deal out of Rachel’s status as an unreliable narrator, and also presents the narrative from the perspective of two other characters. That’s all pretty much out of the window here – we get a heads-down, formally uninventive thriller, so by-the-numbers that I correctly guessed who the bad guy was even before it was apparent anyone had actually done anything bad. There is a thread throughout about motherhood, and the psychological damage that idealising it can inflict. But it is handled gracelessly, and drowned out by louder, sillier noises,

Anthony Banks’s production looks and sounds lively, enlivened by Andrzej Goulding’s flashy projections and nifty sound design from Ben and Max Ringham. But the dialogue thuds and clangs, and draws cypher-like performances out of a cast given little to work with. Womack is saddled with a particularly ungainly role: in the first half Rachel is almost permanently sloshed, while also effectively conducting an amateur detective investigation; there is something unavoidably comic about the way she slurs her way through her preliminary enquiries. Womack is much stronger in the second half when Rachel sobers up, but by then the story has become almost cataclysmically silly.

It’s weird that while crime thrillers are a staple in theatres outside of the capital, in London itself they feel like a virtual alien art form. In principle, I think it’s great that one has made it to the West End. I like the idea of not all theatre aspiring to be high art. Like all elitists, I aspire to not be an elitist. But actually watching ‘The Girl on the Train’ made me want to run back to my tower, lock myself in, and throw away the key.

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