Review - The Girl on the Train at the Duke of York's Theatre
Adapted from the hit thriller novel by Paula Hawkins which told three women’s narratives as they became embroiled in a missing person case - which was in turn adapted into a not-so-hit film starring Emily Blunt – Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel’s stage version of The Girl on the Train was premiered at West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds last year, and pulls into the West End at the Duke of York's as part of a UK tour. But this might be one journey you’re grateful to miss.
Like the film, the play strips out the other two narratives and focusses only on Rachel, a hopeless middle-class boozer who had become enamoured with the victim and her husband who live a few doors down from her ex-husband and his new wife, whom she spies on during her commute. When Megan first goes missing, it’s established that Rachel was in the area that night - having a screaming match with her ex’s new wife – and so the suspicion is on her as she struggles to remember how she stumbled home that night between blackouts.
While the book flicked between the narratives of the three women in the story, the stage version feels a bit set in its way, playing it too safe. Each scene jumps to the next, as Watson finds out the next piece of the jigsaw, and the next, and the next. Nothing seems revelatory, which seems pretty key for a mystery, and so a lot of the tension is lost as you assume the next piece of vital information is just going to land in Rachel’s lap in the next scene.
It doesn’t help either that the dialogue is so tedious and bland; there isn’t a hint of subtlety to the script. There are directional choices, too, which just blow you away from being immersed in the world (a tiny thing, but when Rachel asks Scott for a bottle of sparkling water, how hard would it have been to walk offstage and go to the “kitchen” to fetch it, rather than believe normal people keep two bottles of sparkling water in a living room cupboard with their wine glasses?)
Samantha Womack stars as Rachel, taking over from Jill Halfpenny who originated the part in Leeds last year. There’s very much one level to most of this role: slur your words, wander your glassy eyes and act like a spoiled brat. For the most part, Womack does that well, but it is hard to believe she’s genuinely troubled or even alcoholic.
Part of the problem is that is doesn’t give her much of a chance to develop a personality, so it becomes quite difficult to understand why she’s constantly getting what she wants. Within one week she manages to worm her way into the home of a murder victim, the victim’s therapist’s office and the police case (!), having sensitive information disclosed to her willy-nilly for apparent reason. Why is she being trusted with this?! Because she asked loudly?!
There are some positives: Andrzej Goulding’s projections work brilliantly in tandem with Jack Knowles’ lighting to emulate the eponymous train. And while Knowles’ final set-piece could have been a spectacular climax, it’s ruined by some overdramatic, Learian acting.
The Girl on the Train tickets are available now.
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan