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Stage Review: The Girl on the Train

Samantha Womack as Rachel Watson in The Girl on the Train. Picture: Manuel Harlan - Credit: Manuel Harlan

It’s a case of all aboard for murder as Eastenders star Samantha Womack plays an embittered, unemployed Rachel Watson.

Duke of York’s, London, until August 17

In essence, The Girl on the Train is a creaky, old-fashioned whodunnit with ideas above its station. And, yes, a brilliantly clever pun was just intended there.

Fans of Agatha Christie (Murder on the Orient Express) and Patricia Highsmith (Strangers on a Train) know only too well there’s nothing remotely new about mixing murder with railway journeys. Paula Hawkins’ bestselling debut novel is in many respects something of a pastiche of the work of these two grandes dames and she never really surpasses or even equals them when it comes to high drama or low cunning.

The revelation of the murderer is handled with all of the subtlety of an express train and even the most cloth-eared and myopic punter is sure to be conscious of it screaming along the tracks at least an hour ahead of schedule. Miss Hawkins’ characters are, however, well-drawn and counter-intuitive – a sad and lonely alcoholic as the prime suspect and a gruff Scottish detective assigned to the case who happens to be gay– and that is, of course, a gift to the actors in Anthony Banks’ adept stage production.

The EastEnders star Samantha Womack makes the most of Rachel Watson, the embittered, unemployed former wife of Tom (Adam Jackson-Smith), who walks around swigging from water bottles surreptitiously filled with vodka and periodically vomiting into old pizza boxes. Alex Ferns, meanwhile, gives the proceedings a great deal of ballast as Detective Inspector Gaskill, who wearily remembers he needs to buy a new pair of oven gloves as he counts the number of stab wounds on a corpse.

Rachel still gets the train she used to catch every day for work only because she is afforded en route a view of the balcony of the home that Megan – a woman who appears to have everything, played by Kirsty Oswald – shares with her perfect New Man husband Scott (Philip McGinley). One day, she sees Megan with another fella (Marc Elliott, who is also her psychiatrist) and then she hears that she’s been murdered.

I wouldn’t honestly fret too much about the twists and turns of the plot, but just sit back and enjoy the ride the actors take you on. Each is on a journey and they make the most of every stop on the way. The enforced meetings between Rachel, Gaskill and Tom and his new wife Anna (Lowenna Melrose) are especially entertaining and amount to Grand Guignol comedy of a very high order.

It’s the quirkiness of this show and the fine ensemble cast giving it their all that ultimately redeems it. How very refreshing, by the way, to see a character who’s quite so matter-of-factly gay in Gaskill and not a victim (Bent etc), outrageously flamboyant (La Cage aux Folles etc) or himself homicidal (Prick Up Your Ears etc).

Rating: 4/5

– After The Girl on the Train finishes at the Duke of York’s, it resumes its tour of the UK until November.