West Yorkshire Playhouse’s new stage adaptation of The Girl on the Train is a gripping portrayal of the best selling book.
Alcoholic divorcee Rachel Watson is dragged into a murder investigation when she reveals she regularly ‘spies’ on the victim on her morning commute into London. The beautiful Megan Hipwell has everything Rachel fantasises about – a beautiful home and a seemingly happy marriage. But on the morning of the night before Megan’s disappearance, Rachel notices something strange… and, when it’s revealed Rachel was in the neighbourhood on the night Megan was murdered, can Rachel fill the voids in her memory and avoid getting the blame?
In this production, Rachel seems to be almost taking part in the investigation as ‘something to do’. She aids the affable yet somehow eerie investigator D.I. Gaskill (Colin Tierney) as if she’s doing him a favour. In reality, our heroine would be desperately getting involved in the search in an effort to clear her name. Jill Halfpenny plays Rachel as a rather naive, sad woman who longs for her old life back… and a drink, of course. There isn’t a great deal of sentiment or softness to her character, which makes her a little brash.
Florence Hall as Megan Hipwell plays the part well, particularly the emotive scenes where it would be easy to slip into over-acting mode. The same can’t be said for Theo Ogundipe, who plays Scott Hipwell. He is far too manic in his role and looks uncomfortable throughout his time on stage. This is nicely contrasted by the calm and gentle Kamal Abdic, played by Jonas Khan.
Now we come to Adam Best, who plays Rachel’s ex-husband Tom. The character is portrayed throughout as gentle and loving – a real family man. Without any spoilers, Tom is one of the play’s most complex characters, yet Adam Best doesn’t have the innate charisma to provide any sinister undertones. He just plays our leading lad as a thoroughly nice chap who, frankly, just seems like he wants a cup of tea and a hassle-free carry on. Does this make the ending feel a bit unrealistic and forced? I think so.
The flashbacks are handled incredibly well, directed by Joe Murphy. Many of the cast use rather unnatural gesturing, which isn’t always necessary, but on the whole isn’t too distracting either. The main thing is the truly dramatic scenes, where the cast’s acting prowess shines through. In many ways I’m not expecting the cast to handle the tougher scenes quite so well, but the direction is soft and meaningful.
The show is a masterclass on how to stage a complex and choppy production. As the play originated from a book, there are many different settings and the need for the presence of a train looms heavy. The stunning set by Lily Arnold, accompanied by clever lighting by Lizzie Powell, is perfectly minimalist with touches of extravagance (such as the moment the set seems to pull back to create an underpass). The use of light and sound creates a whooshing train effect that creates pacy scene changes.
It’s almost impossible to bring the same level of power and poignancy to a plot as a book or even a film can do, but this production will still make a lasting impression with its intelligent staging and direction.
Catch the show at West Yorkshire Playhouse until 9th June.
Photography credited to The Other Richard.