When you move a story from medium to medium, the challenge you face is to hold onto what made it special in the first place. After the publication of Paula Hawkins’ hugely popular novel in 2015 came the markedly less popular film adaptation a couple of years later, and now Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel are touring the stage adaptation of the crime thriller. Directed by Anthony Banks, Samantha Womack stars as Rachel Watson, an alcoholic who becomes fixated with a couple that she sees from her train window, only to learn that one of them, Megan Hipwell (Kirsty Oswald), has gone missing. Bottle of vodka in hand, Rachel puts all her efforts into trying to find out what has happened to her.
Despite the difficulties of thrillers in theatre (since, unlike in film and literature, it is difficult to conceal anything from the audience) we have grown accustomed to seeing the likes of Agatha Christie adapted to stage. This is a far more sombre mystery, granted, but a mystery nonetheless. The design is at times aesthetically pleasing, but the direction and script are depressingly bland, making it difficult to become in any way invested in the characters. “Do you really think a WOMAN could have done this?” says John Dougall as D.I. Gaskill, incredulous at the very idea, only for the line to be repeated a couple of scenes later as though such a revelation would reinvent the genre.
In fairness, the question of whodunit remains intact right until the end, and it felt like any one of the characters could have been responsible. Though that may sound like a recipe for success, what often makes for a more gripping climax is when it seems like none of the characters could have done it, or at least there are some suspects that seem more likely than others to keep us guessing. Speaking as someone who hasn’t read the book or seen the film, I was in prime position to be shocked by the well-kept secret of what happens at the end of the story. When it’s revealed, however, the tone lacks that sense of inevitability that is crucial to making a twist work.
Womack herself comes off as wooden as opposed to being drunkenly distant, slouching from scene to scene as though pursuing an investigation for lack of anything better to do. Viewed through a certain lens one could well believe that the clues she discovers are only revealed to her to stop her whining. Dougall, though his character is essentially a collection of tropes, gives an endearing and humorous performance as a detective seemingly fed up with the drama and secrecy of his suspects. Oliver Farnworth’s basic and uninspired performance as Megan’s husband leaves a lot to be desired. After hearing a horrifying rumour about his missing wife (which I dare not reveal), Farnworth seems barely phased, as though discovering she’d eaten the last chocolate digestive before her disappearance.
“The Girl on the Train” never goes off the rails, but it never exactly impresses either. From this production it is difficult to see how the novel became such a sensation, but whatever spark it had has been lost, resulting in a show that offers nothing exciting for either fans or newcomers. Two stars.
Whispers from the crowd:
I just thought it was better than the film