Theatre Review | The Girl on the Train – Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

You’ve probably read the book, and you might have seen the film – but now it’s time to see the play.

The Girl on the Train has pulled in right on time to Southampton and has made the Mayflower Theatre its station for the next few days as part of its UK tour.

I was invited along to watch the show on its opening night and was keen to see how it compared to its written and filmed counterparts. Adaptations, I find, usually go one way or the other, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

TGOTT 9 Naeem Hayat and Samantha Womack Photo by Manuel Harlan

First, a little background information. The Girl on the Train was originally written by Paula Hawkins and quickly became a phenomenon, holding the record for the most weeks at number one in the British hardback book chart, before taking the big screen by storm in 2016. The thriller tells the story of Rachel, a commuter with a drinking problem, a turbulent past, and a penchant for prying on other peoples’ lives.

Before she knows it, she’s embroiled in the disappearance of a local woman; things escalate, and the deepest of secrets are revealed. As the story moves on, memories are questioned, realities are warped, and various serious issues are addressed; it’s one hell of a journey, and we’re being taken along for the ride.

TGOTT 5 Samantha Womack Photo by Manuel Harlan

It’s a fairly small cast, but here, size really doesn’t matter. There are a few familiar faces. Samantha Womack – known for her appearance as Ronnie in Eastenders – plays the lead role of Rachel Watson, and she does it very well. She seems to relax into the role and, as her character grows throughout the plot, she seems to take up more and more of the stage with her presence. Samantha plays this intense and difficult character convincingly.

Oliver Farnworth as Scott Hipwell  – known for Coronation Street and Mr Selfridge – fits into his role with ease; he and Samantha both cast off their soap-star reputations and prove themselves as naturals on the stage.

Kirsty Oswald as Megan Hipwell delivers her powerful monologue with such emotion, and Adam Jackson-Smith’s Tom Watson is excellently unnerving and unsettling. John Dougall as D I Gaskill also stood out for me, his dry and often dark humour peppering the seriousness of the situation; though a supporting role, he ensured he had our full attention when he was on stage.

TGOTT 6 Matt Concannon and John Dougall Photo by Manuel Harlan

The staging was effective; with so many elements and locations, I wasn’t sure how they would manage to transport us from home, to flat, to train, and back. With a little wizardry, it kept the plot moving incredibly smoothly and looked fantastic. The train set was particularly inventive, and each location managed to feel cosy and personal on such an expansive stage.

The performance itself was really enjoyable. I felt that it started off a little slow, and the cast seemed to be easing into their roles for a few scenes. But, as the show went on, the pace stepped up as more layers and intrigue were added, and the cast also seemed to relax completely. That could be down to the plot, or due to the production’s early days, but either way, the production grew stronger as it went on and finished on a strong note.

TGOTT 11 Oliver Farnworth and Samantha Womack Photo by Manuel Harlan

It made a nice change to watch a play in the Mayflower, after seeing so many musicals and dance productions there. I wonder if this particular production would be slightly more suited to a smaller, more intimate venue. This could have increased the tension and the suspense a little more; however, I believe it’s a testament to the popularity of the show when you fill one of the largest theatres outside of London!

The mark of a good production, in my eyes, is when you forget you’re even watching a play at all; once things warmed up and the plot thickened, I found myself forgetting the theatre around me. I was really pleasantly surprised with how well the creative team behind the show adapted this best-selling book, and the tension and suspense that made it so popular, for the stage; I found myself remembering the twists and turns along the way and was once again wrapped up in the plot.

If you’re a fan of the book (and film!) I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. The Girl on the Train translates very well on stage and will have you absorbed in the plot, even if you know the twists. Although maybe not as intense as I would have expected, it’s dramatic and exciting and makes for an enjoyable evening. And, I must admit, it’s nice to see a popular film and book adapted as a play, and not a musical, for once!

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I was invited to review this performance, but as always all views are honest and completely my own.

Imagery courtesy of Mayflower Theatre.

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