Mindlessly leading us down the twists and turns of a missing person case, the frankly unlikeable characters care more about their own selfish indulgences than the fact that a woman has vanished, which turns what could have been a spellbinding thriller into a mundane melodramatic sitcom. Skipping quickly over any opportunities for character development, the script uncomfortably shoehorns as much backstory as possible into the first of many unrealistic conversations between alcoholic ex-wife Rachel Watson (Samantha Womack) and the heartlessly re-married Tom Watson (Adam Jackson-Smith). The attempt at combining realism with non-naturalism is awkward and although scene transitions were smooth, the piece doesn’t naturally hang together.
Perhaps the greatest downfall of the production is the missing tension. Dialogue fell flat in several places, with the delivery often feeling stale and overly-rehearsed. In moments where the pressure was building, it was frequently dissolved by an untimely joke. Most scenes begged for a change of pace and a spark of genuine connection between the characters; even married couples did not appear to actually like each other.
Unlike the novel, we were not invited into the private thoughts of the female protagonists and so the story’s subtleties were lost, painting the characters as simply irrational and impulsive. The audience quickly becomes as exasperated by Rachel’s drunken whining as the other characters in the play. The one-dimensional emotions could probably have been somewhat improved by the use of stage mics to prevent the actors from having to project so strongly. It often felt as if actors were yelling their lines into each other’s faces, sacrificing tone and intimacy for being well heard by the audience.
There were, however, a couple of notably stirring moments. The last twenty minutes finally cranked up the tension a notch, a highly anticipated light at the end of the tunnel. The climax captured some of the thriller atmosphere that the book delivers throughout. Another sincerely emotional moment was presented by Megan Hipwell (Kirsty Oswald), whose monologue hushed the audience, her voice filling the theatre with ease.
Most impressive was the set and costume design by James Cotterill. Flashing projections to drive the timeline of the story, atmospheric impressions of houses and flats and best of all…the translucent train! Already onstage as the audience took their seats, the train is a rushing combination of projections, lighting illusions and sound effects. It is minimalist but effective.
Less effective was the minimalistic set of the therapist’s office. Moving into non-naturalism, the actor’s face the audience on two lone chairs either side of the stage. It is a bold choice, but one requiring stronger acting and a more exciting script to execute successfully.
From book to stage, this piece loses so much potential for thrilling excitement. The Girl on the Train attempts to bring to life a twisted mystery, but inevitably it is just not quite on the right track…
PHOTOS: MANUEL HARLAN