Review: The Girl on the Train at Liverpool Playhouse

By Nigel Smith

IF you want to see The Girl on the Train this week at the Playhouse you will need to queue at the box office for returns. It ticks all three boxes for a game of charades, having been both a book and a film before it reached the stage in this adaptation by Rachel Wagstaffe and Duncan Abel.

The production, originally made by West Yorkshire Playhouse, has a new cast and director for this tour. Samantha Womack and Oliver Farnworth head the bill as the Girl in question, Rachel, and her ex-husband’s neighbour Scott, with whom she becomes entwined in a convoluted alliance.

Rachel has given up even remotely concealing the drinking problem that led to her current jobless state, and she now spends her days in a destinationless commute on a train that takes her past her former marital home. She becomes obsessed with the lives of her former husband Tom and his new wife Anna, and their neighbours Scott and Megan. But Megan has disappeared, and Rachel has a bump on her head and another bout of memory failure.

When Megan’s body turns up nearby, Rachel becomes a natural suspect for D.I. Gaskill. Events conspire to make her wonder whether she was the killer, assisted by the oh-so plausible and squeaky-clean Tom, who engages in a mind game that must be terrifying for her.

This is an opportunity to terrify the audience too, but it is missed somehow as Anthony Banks’ direction fails to achieve the story’s potential tension. The pace is just that little bit too slow to grip the attention and the performances, although individually finely honed, never really coalesce into an ensemble. When the surprise denouement arrives it delivers more of a shrug of the shoulders than a gasp of amazement.

James Cotterill’s set design is extraordinarily ambitious for a production touring to 24 different venues, and is enhanced by clever mapped projection by Andrzej Goulding. It’s a big ask for the stage crew to manoeuvre all the moving structures in concert with the projected elements. With just one day to get it all struck from one theatre and back up and running in the next is a punishing schedule, so a few hiccups in synchronisation are forgivable on its opening night here.

It’s a production that handsomely presents the varied scenes that Rachel’s memories inhabit and, even if it fails to quite live up to its promise of gripping drama, it remains an entertaining couple of hours.

The Girl on the Train is at the Playhouse until Saturday, then continues touring a further 17 venues until 13th July.