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Review: The Girl On The Train – New Theatre, Cardiff

Thanks to the New TheatreCardiff  for inviting us along to see the show in exchange for this review.

As the play, based on the book by Paula Hawkins, opens the audience meet Rachel Watson (Samatha Womack) for the first time and, without being too presumptuous, we get a fairly accurate idea of the kind of life Rachel leads.

Samantha Womack. Photo by Manuel Harlan.

Her flat strewn with litter and dirty plates it’s clear she leads a less than admirable life. It becomes apparent she’s an alcoholic who is struggling after the break down of her marriage. Seeing her ex-husband go on to lead the life she always wanted has caused arguments with the new Mrs Watson and on the night she turns up at their front door to engage in the most recent screaming match a woman goes missing and Rachel may have been the last to see her.

As a woman wishing for more in her life Rachel watches a young couple from the train daily who are very affectionate towards each other and portray the perfect image of a young couple in love. The couple live a few doors down from Rachels ex-husband and new wife and in perfect view of Rachel’s daily commute.

When Rachel is told by her ex husband that a woman is missing Rachel discovers it to be the woman from the couple she watches every day and becomes completely wrapped up in the investigation. As the case develops and the plot thickens, we see Rachel struggle to remember the events of the night Megan was last seen due to alcohol induced blackouts and gaps in her memory.

The play provides unexpected pockets of humour throughout, mainly based around the protagonist’s alcoholism. This humour did take away from the thrill portrayed in both book and film, however, gave the audience the opportunity to express an emotion whilst the rest of the play held back in doing so.

Naeem Hayat gave a genuine and heartfelt portrayal of Dr Kamal Abdic who Rachel visits after discovering Megan was a patient. It was hard to believe the character wasn’t being played by a genuine therapist as he answered questions exactly as a stereotypical therapist would, adding more to his character.

Praise must go to those involved in adding life to the set otherwise lacking texture and depth. Projection Designer Andrzej Goulding works well alongside Lighting Designer Jack Knowles to keep the theme of Rachel’s train journeys present throughout and kept the focus on certain characters during set changes as well as helping portray Rachel’s feelings during memory blackouts and flashbacks. Composition and sound by Ben and Max Ringham brought life to the train journeys as well as helping bring location to the sets and reminding the audience exactly where the characters were. At varying points in the play flashing lights filled the theatre and the rumbling of trains passing reminding the audience of how the story came to be and Rachels link to the other characters despite her otherwise seemingly lonesome life.

Having been an Eastenders fan for many years, I was looking forward to seeing Samantha Womack play a very different role and how she had interpreted the character of Rachel Watson. It’s fair to say I felt as though Ronnie Mitchell had left Albert Square and her life taken a very different turn.

If wondering if this is a play for you it’s important to consider your prior knowledge of the story. Fans of the book will notice the lack of three narrators as we only hear from Rachel whilst film fans may feel a slight lack of tension throughout. I did find myself forgetting the original was a thriller due to a lack of suspense and tension, although the story still remained and the ending still very much a twist.

The Girl on the Train can be seen at the New Theatre, Cardiff, until Saturday 16th November 2019. Tickets are available from the Box Office (029) 20878889 or click here