Review: Tension makes up for lack of nuance in The Girl on the Train on Northampton stage

Oliver Farnworth and Samantha Womack. Picture: Manuel Harlan
Oliver Farnworth and Samantha Womack. Picture: Manuel Harlan

Lily Canter reviews The Girl on the Train at the Royal & Derngate, Northampton

A worldwide publishing phenomenon which became a Hollywood movie within a year, it is no surprise that the latest destination of The Girl on the Train is a stage production.

Running at Royal & Derngate this week, the thriller adapted by Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel plays out like an Agatha Christie whodunit with an obligatory set of red herrings and rug-pulls.

There is even the odd dastardly look and cliché line from one of the male leads revealing how much this adaptation owes to classics such as The Mousetrap.

Samantha Womack, best known for playing Ronnie Mitchell in EastEnders and more affectionately known for her role as Mandy in 1990s comedy Game On, is a revelation as alcoholic anti-heroine Rachel Watson who attempts to unravel her hazy memory of the night Megan Hipwell was murdered.

Womack has continued working in theatre throughout her television and film career and her experience shines through in this confident performance where she transforms from her usual bubbly persona into the grotty, self-loathing Rachel.

With unkempt hair and belly hanging out, Womack's Rachel is far closer to the source material than the more glamorous depiction by Emily Blunt in the 2016 film.

Supported by a solid cast, with particular strengths coming from the female protagonists, Womack convinces as a drunk and distraught commuter trying to make sense of the night in question.

Stripping back the characters and plot, the play turns Rachel into a flawed sleuth desperately investigating the murder to allow Megan to rest in peace. This is a dramatic character shift from the novel which focused on Rachel's self-serving obsession to regain her memory, which made her quite an unlikeable, and irritating, central character.

Yet on stage Rachel elicits audience empathy, as two key female characters are sidelined and the plot is more concerned with the murder mystery than the lives of three abused women.

In keeping with the novel however is the blanket (and in my opinion flawed) negative portrayal of men who abuse their power, strength and position to undermine the women around them.

The nuances of storytelling and character are lost in this murder-by-numbers adaptation but in its place is a tense psychological thriller heightened by clever staging and sprinkled with moments of poignancy.

* The Girl on the Train runs at the Royal & Derngate until Saturday April 27. Visit royalandderngate.co.uk to book.