There are, I suppose, very few theatrical adaptations of books that are as gripping as the books themselves. Now, this may be an unpopular opinion, but I found that Paula Hawkins’ novel, The Girl on the Train quite sluggish for the first couple of hundred pages – it was the kind of book I read if I had a few moments on the London Underground and there weren’t some tourists and/or children screaming like banshees in the carriage and carried on reading only when similar circumstances arose again. But I remember reading the last hundred pages in a single sitting at home, staying up to get to the end.
The play, however, hits the ground running quickly, and regardless of whether one has read the book or not, it’s all rather intriguing. A bit like The Mousetrap, there are possible clues that lead to Person A possibly being the prime suspect, before some additional information comes to light that could mean it was Person B, and so on, until it all comes together in the end. A missing person enquiry turns into a murder investigation, led by DI Gaskill (Alex Ferns), speaking in his natural Scots accent, which reminded me of a flippant remark by Quentin Letts in which he managed to piss off the likes of James McAvoy. In a review of the National Theatre production of Peter Gynt, he writes of an RP-accented character bringing “a welcome calm to proceedings and relief at last from the whining Scottish accents.”
It wasn’t the accent (not problematic at all for yours truly) that irritated Rachel Watson (Samantha Womack), but rather the incessant questioning. Her ex-husband Tom (Adam Jackson-Smith) and his new wife Anna (Lowenna Melrose) get just as annoyed, having to cover the same ground repeatedly: what happened on such-and-such a night in such-and-such a place? Who said what to whom? What time? And it’s not like there was ‘good cop’ and ‘bad cop’ going on, as the other two police officers (Matt Concannon and Phillipa Flynn) both had non-speaking parts. Had the characters not expressed their displeasure at every possible lead, no matter how bizarre, being followed up in all seriousness, the audience might have ended up very bored themselves. Instead, I found myself identifying with them, inasmuch as I would have felt similar sentiments towards such an infuriating approach.
The other characters in this sorry tale are Scott Hipwell (Philip McGinley), his wife Megan (Kirsty Oswald) and Megan’s therapist, Dr Kamal Abdic (Marc Elliott). Essentially, Rachel’s train journey is so slow and shit that she has time each and every weekday on the morning commute to observe the back gardens of certain people and notice when Woman X is snogging someone other than the same man, presumably her husband or at least long-term partner, whom she usually kisses and embraces. As tends to be the case with adaptations of this nature, the narrative is somewhat simplified – Cathy, Rachel’s de facto landlord in the book, is relegated to an estate agent whose voicemails are swiftly deleted by Rachel (one wonders why she (Cathy) features at all in the play, except to appease the book readers who might otherwise have thought she was conspicuous by her total absence).
Of course, I’m not going to bother stating who did what to whom here. The set (James Cotterill), while functional, has parts banging into each other with unnecessary force, and shifts about uncomfortably and jerkily during scene changes. I get that this is a touring production, but it’s still in the West End, even for a brief residency – and it’s just not good enough. But at least there no weak links to report in the acting. A gripping and absorbing night out.
London lad, loving life and all that it has to offer.