Last week, The Girl on The Train, based on the Paula Hawkins novel, was performed at The Playhouse. Samantha Womack, known for playing Ronnie in EastEnders, stars as the alcoholic Rachel with a memory full of blanks. Riding the train to and from London every day, despite having been fired from her job six months ago, Rachel becomes obsessed with the life of a couple she sees from the carriage window. When Rachel sees Scott and Megan Hipwell, they seem like the perfect couple, with the perfect life, but when Megan goes missing Rachel becomes entangled in the search for her which uncovers the dark secrets behind their perfect image.
The novel was extremely successful, topping The New York Times fiction bestsellers list for weeks, and Emily Blunt starred in a popular film adaptation in 2016. The idea of the story being adapted into a play was intriguing, and I was particularly interested to see how the train would fit in on a stage. It became immediately clear: the set was initially constructed like a train carriage with a screen showing the views you would see from a train journey. Even as soon as you find your seat you are transported into Rachel’s isolated world, where she would maintain the façade of having a job to commute to. However, as the play started, we are shown Rachel’s tiny flat where wine bottles and takeaway boxes are displayed. Samantha Womack’s performance from the very first scene made it clear to the audience that Rachel is a character with a lot of issues, and when we are soon introduced to her ex-husband it is clear why. Played by Adam Jackson-Smith, Tom Watson initially seems like an understanding man, who wants to help his ex-wife: he helps her clear up her flat when he comes to see her, and seems genuinely concerned for her. The breakdown of their marriage when they were unable to conceive, and Rachel’s growing alcoholism, led him to leave her for his new wife Anna Watson (Lowenna Melrose) whom he now shares a baby with. Although Rachel seems a pitiful character, mentions of her harassment of Anna leads us to thinking that she doesn’t exactly help herself. Her interest and involvement in Megan Hipwell’s disappearance ends up being the push she needed to get her life back on track.
Although the play was a thriller, with shocking moments (including a cliff-hanger before the interval), there were also humorous moments. D.I. Gaskill, played by John Dougall, brought a welcome relief from some of Rachel’s erratic behaviour. Dry comments such as ‘some fellas look better dead than they ever did alive’ brought a good balance between dark moments and the humour in the play. The detective also addressed Rachel’s drinking, asking her if she was a Waitrose drinker. He explained that even middle class alcoholics end up being the same as everyone else, resorting to the cheapest alcohol for the amount of units they can afford, no longer carrying their alcohol in a Waitrose bag. With middle class characters, the play subtly suggests the idea that an outwardly-perfect, Waitrose life can still hide something sinister.
The creative staging, such as the actors facing the audience when Rachel goes to the therapist brought the audience uncomfortably close to the characters. This intrusive feel reflected the way that Rachel intruded on Scott and Megan Hipwell, watching them from the train and discovering their darkest secrets from her obsessive involvement in Megan’s disappearance. Her patchy memory and questionable motives made Rachel an interesting character to follow, with the audience not quite sure of how innocent she is until the end. Her own investigation into what happened to Megan leads to some home truths, and makes for a gripping performance.