REVIEW: The Girl on the Train – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

British writer Paula Hawkins’ 2015 novel The Girl on the Train became a runaway best-seller around the globe, with a Hollywood movie adaptation following on its heels quickly a year later, albeit with a re-setting to New York instead of London. Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel’s 2018 stage version restores it to its original location and a somewhat less glossy and more realistic environment.

Binge drinking Rachel Watson passes her old house and her ex-husband and his new life (and wife and baby) every day as she commutes to work. While her attention is initially on ex Tom and trophy wife Anna, whom she harassed relentlessly, it strays to a house a few doors down where she fixates on “Jason & Jess” as she’s dubbed them and their seemingly perfect life. Little does she know that “Jess” is far from happy. When she wakes up one day bloody and injured with little recollection of what has happened she finds out “Jess”, actually Megan, is missing. She inveigles her way into the investigation, befriending Megan’s husband Scott and visiting her psychotherapist Dr. Abdic under false pretences. As Rachel slowly sobers, her memories become gradually clearer and there’s a whole school of red herrings before we come to the shocking conclusion.

Unlike the book and movie, the lion’s share of the action takes place in Rachel’s hovel of an apartment, it’s more The Girl in the Flat rather than The Girl on the Train but that said, the design by James Cotterill is clever enough to portray multiple locations including Megan and Scott’s and Tom and Anna’s homes, a police station, a psychiatrist’s office, the crime scene and the train itself. There a few sound and lighting effects thrown into the mix to keep the interest.

It’s must be said that it is a little slow to get into gear, possibly necessitated by the establishment of the complex layers of the story, but the tension does ramp up in the second half. Where it also differs from both previous incarnations of the story is the frequent black humour, which provides light relief in this dark tale. The scenes between Rachel and sardonic D.I. Gaskell (John Dougall) are particularly well-played.

TV veteran Samantha Womack is Rachel, and delivers a well-measured, low-key performance, keeping it entirely within the bounds of believability in her portrayal of a woman on the brink. There are no cheap histrionics here, and certainly no glamour, much to Womack’s credit. It is refreshing to know that in having a star like Womack, the producers haven’t traded talent for ticket sales. She is ably supported by a sure-footed ensemble cast.

Another question that deserves addressing (almost the elephant in the room) for those who have read the book or seen the movie – does it affect the enjoyment knowing the sting on the tail? Not entirely. While knowing what’s coming, it is still sufficiently interesting to see how it has been achieved.

Runs until 20 April 2019 | Image: Manuel Harlan