West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds – until 9th June 2018
Reviewed By Dawn Smallwood
This highly anticipated production The Girl on the Train has begun its world premiere at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Based on Paula Hawkins’ bestselling novel and Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel’s adaptation the story comes to life on stage. It is about Rachel Watson (Jill Halfpenny) who dreams of life that is very different to hers and seeks escapism through the train’s windows on her daily commute. From the windows she secretly focuses on the couple, Megan and Scott Hipwell (Florence Hall and Theo Ogundipe), who appear to have this perfect enviable relationship until one day Megan abruptly disappears.
With a stunning simplistic staging, stripped to the bare minimum, Rachel (Halfpenny) is suddenly involved with the investigation as both a witness and suspect assisting G.I. Gaskill (Colin Tierney). The suspense and intrigue gets bigger with incredible flash projections of a moving train, in between scenes, which enables Rachel to remember more about what happened on the day that Megan (Hall) disappeared and eventually faces the shocking truth.
Lily Arnold’s staging works well with the story and the characters are portrayed excellently by Halfpenny, Hall, Ogundpipe, Tierney, Adam Best, Jonas Khan and Sarah Ovens. Joe Murphy’s direction ensures the story focuses more on the characters than on the chronology of events. Lizzie Powell’s lighting, Isobel Waller-Bridge’s soundscapes and Andrzej Goulding’s video projections complement the production and enhances the suspense and intrigue expected in a psychological thriller.
Many can relate to the strong emotive and psychological themes in the play today and there are those who have shared a similar journey to Rachel (Halfpenny) with experiences of being in an abusive relationship and in receipt of manipulative and controlling behaviour from their partners. Such behaviour results in the devastating consequences, as evident with the alcohol dependency, and the struggle to rebuild one’s life through disempowerment, belittlement and a lack of confidence. The play draws hope however when one can rediscover their power and use this for the greater good in oneself and in society. It is psychologically poignant but refreshingly hopeful for one door to be closed and another one to be opened. Rachel makes such a personal statement at the end that she was the girl on the train but now it’s a women being on one.
First class acting from all the cast and especially Halfpenny who gives a very strong performance portraying Rachel Watson who is laden with emotions from her abusive relationship but has a fighting spirit, from being vulnerable to turning detective, in pursuing what exactly happened to Megan (Hall) that day.
The play grips the audience with suspense and definitely captures their attention from beginning to end. The Girl on the Train plans to tour nationally after its run at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and no doubt the production will be very well received as well as this current run. An unmissable production and a big credit to everyone involved.