Wednesday, 16 October 2019

REVIEW: The Girl on the Train at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley

The Girl on the Train gives as its source both the Paula Hawkins novel and the Dreamworks film. The latter, I suspect, is almost purely a financial credit as this is very much an English-set telling of the story. The only American element being the atmospheric but out-of-place train horn sound effect which, sadly, you will not hear on your commute on Southeastern.

The plot concerns alcoholic commuter Rachel (Samantha Womack) who becomes a key person of interest in a murder enquiry. Her observations of some of the suspects from her train window and her unreliable memory of what happened on the night of the murder prove vital. This is all tangled-up in the marriage of her previous husband and the murdered woman’s relationship with him and her analyst.

Like Hitchcock’s Rear Window, The Girl on the Train, in both film and novel versions, builds the tension because our protagonist is removed from the action. We have to guess along with them what’s really going on, based on the distant and fragmented glimpses into events in other people’s lives. 

Sadly this element, for entirely understandable and no doubt practical reasons, is largely absent from the stage play. The train window is a briefly used, but effective, effect. But Rachel is pretty quickly getting involved with the other people. And although there is a detective in the story (John Dougall is dourly effective as D I Gaskill) looking for the missing Megan (Kirsty Oswald), the investigator is really Rachel herself. This creates an original and unusual dynamic to the murder mystery format.

The train serves another role in the original story. It grounds the slightly fantastic elements of the plot in a reality a lot of people (especially somewhere like Bromley – Bromley South to Victoria 16 minutes on a good run) can appreciate. Its absence leaves us with the characters doing a lot of talking to each other about things that have happened or they’ve seen. Scenes are sometimes quite lengthy.

Fortunately, there is a brilliant performance from Samantha Womack holding things together. Her alcohol infused condition conveys a real sense of living in a permanently hungover state. She never strays into the cliché of the theatrical or comedy drunk. She keeps it all too painful for us ever to find it funny. And her transition across the evening from being out of focus and addled to sharp and on the ball as she solves the crime is subtly handled. 

I was minded to go for a three star review, but her compelling performance alone is worth the extra star.

Review by John Charles 


Seat: Stalls K35 | Price of ticket: £33
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