REVIEW: The Girl On The Train, West Yorkshire Playhouse ✭✭✭

Last Updated on 26th May 2018

Jonathan Hall reviews The Girl On The Train at West Yorkshire Playhouse.

The Girl On The Train review
Adam Best and Jill Halfpenny in The Girl On The Train. Photo: Richard Davenport

The Girl On The Train
West Yorkshire Playhouse
3 Stars
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Adapting a popular novel for the stage is a tough call at the best of times- adapting one that has only just gone from off the shelves and has recently a popular film and therefore lodged firmly in the public conscience is a doubly, triply fraught task- a task that according to a swathe of negative reviews the West Yorkshire Playhouse has roundly failed in. Therefore it came as something of a surprise to me when I came out of the show (a performance that had earned itself a cheering audience ovation) finding myself having been both absorbed and entertained by what I had just seen.

 

The Girl On The Train at Wewst Yorkshire Playhouse
Jonas Khan and Florence Hall in The Girl On The Train. Photo: Richard Davenport

However the negatives are there…

 

The complex heart of Paula Hawkin’s intriguing novel is Rachel, the titular girl on the train, a dark enigma of a character. An alcoholic in flat denial of her problems, seemingly stalking her ex-husband and his new partner, her actions constantly have the reader questioning her reliability both as a narrator and a human being. Additionally her self-centred treatment of those around her makes her someone who is in fact pretty hard to like. Vital to the story is the fact that after a woman vanishes- a woman Rachel just happens to be watching from a train window on a daily basis- there’s a whopping hangover of a black hole in her memory as well as a few worrying cuts and bruises. Is Rachel a hapless victim of events- or is their something more sinister about her actions?

The Girl On The Train review
Jill Halfpenny in The Girl On The Train. Photo: Richard Davenport

Unfortunately however this key enigma is not served at all well by certain elements of the production. Rachel is played with a compelling forthright integrity by Jill Halfpenny- and for me that was the trouble. The character came across as too strong, too reliable- and very likeable into the bargain. Not for one minute did I doubt her version of events or see her as anything other than a victim and a heroine.

The Girl On The Train review
Sarah Ovens in The Girl On The Train. Photo: Richard Davenport

The problem was further compounded by the script by Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Able, which told more than it showed. For example Rachel’s alcoholism which was such a queasy uncomfortable dynamic in the novel was something only really referred to- we never actually saw the toe curling lapses of behaviour brought on her by drinking. The catalogue of dark and disturbing events were mainly reported to us by characters in conversation- often we were hearing about events second or even third hand – which had a deadening effect on the action. Where characters did meet, when events did occur on stage the show flared into dark funny life- such as the scene in a neighbour’s house with a sort of drinks party from hell.

The strong set design by Lily Arnold also worked against the shifting heart of of the story. On the one hand projections of a blurred urban landscape scene from a train created strong opening images, the powerful neon white framing of the stage gave the impression of life glimpsed through a train window. However what we saw beyond the outline of the window for me counteracted the whole effect; a rigid grey apartment, starkly and uncompromisingly outlined by white. The image was too strong- so that whatever scene we saw- and there was a pleasing fluidity of time and place with flashbacks and jumps in location- was played against that same strongly defined apartment backdrop.

The question is- do these issues (to use a much overused phrase) derail the evening. And I’d say no.

The Firl On The Train West Yorkshire Playhouse
Theo Ogundipe in The Girl On The Train. Photo: Richard Davenport

The story is a strong and cleverly crafted tale of betrayal and coercive control with an intriguing mystery at the heart, a mystery that is maintained right until the end. The direction by Joe Murphy and the strong and committed performances gave pace and energy to the story; particularly memorable were Adam Best as the Rachel’s ex partner switching between frayed concern and something a bit darker and Florence Hall as a woman stalked beyond endurance by her husband’s ex.

The Girl On The Train review
Colin Tierney and Jill Halfpenny in The Girl On The Train. Photo: Richard Davenport

And I was not alone in my enjoyment- as mentioned, at the end the show was cheered by a packed audience; I gathered overhearing conversations, that many of them not being natural theatregoers had come to the Playhouse on the strength of seeing a book they loved presented on stage. Surely this has to be a good thing and the adaptation of a popular novel a valid project for the theatre to try again in the future?

Until 9 June 2018

BOOK NOW FOR THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN

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