Fresh from its UK tour, Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel’s adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ bestselling novel The Girl on the Train comes to the West End.
Loneliness in the modern world, trust, love and dependence on alcohol – the play has all the hallmarks of a cutting-edge modern thriller, yet fails to deliver the necessary sucker punch.
The drama on stage may be palpable in moments, but doesn’t ever reach more than a simmer. Adam Banks’s production fails to build the suspense that its audience so desperately craves, resulting in a soggy disappointment rather than a hard-hitting spectacle.
Protagonist Rachel Watson (Samantha Womack), the just-about-functioning alcoholic who finds herself at the centre of a missing person case, is fascinating but lacking depth. This is not the fault of Womack, who handles the subtle alcoholic-playing-sober routine with skill, but rather the text of the play itself.
Womack imbues the fragile, lonely Rachel with grit and determination, yet moments of tension are too often lost in two-dimensional shouty rage. Jack Knowles’ lighting choices are not always clear when dealing with Rachel, and the spotlight on the character to end a scene seems rather bizarre.
As Rachel’s ex-husband, Adam Jackson-Smith plays his character’s cards a little too early, yet balances Womack’s unstable and at times frantic character well. As the missing Megan, Kirsty Oswald delivers a show-halting monologue in Act II, and her increasingly blackening dress is a claver motif in the production.
Wryly spoken police officer DI Gaskill (Alex Ferns) injects some much-needed comic warmth to the piece, though the character never quite turns cold enough to fire serious accusations at any of the potential suspects.
Where the 2016 movie was more successful was in its ability to strip the characters down, illustrating their flaws through the course of the piece. In this stage adaptation, the lack of different perspectives kills any suspense, as characters are dumped on the stage at the beginning pretty much as flawed as when the curtain falls.
It fails to pick up any real momentum too. There’s no feeling of urgency in the quest to find the lost Megan, upon which the rest of the narrative falls.
However, as a visual piece, the production does not disappoint, thanks to James Cotterill’s expansive sets. The train itself is not as prominent a feature as one may expect, but is well delivered as part of the wider package. Particularly impressive are the interiors of Rachel’s flat and her former residence; the difference is notable in scale and detail.
The Girl on the Train seems as though it hasn’t quite found itself on stage yet, crying out to be both more and less complex at the same time. It’s taken an incredibly well-constructed novel, complete with crossing perspectives and a stinging twist, and sucked much of the life from it.
Despite the talent at its disposal, The Girl on the Train simply cannot live up to its previous incarnations. Unfortunately, it’s stuck on the tracks and going nowhere fast.
The Girl on the Train at Duke of York’s Theatre until 17 August
Picture credit: Manuel Harlan