Thursday, May 30

The Girl on the Train – Altrincham Garrick Playhouse

It is with much anticipation that I attended the opening night of The Girl on the Train at Altrincham Garrick Playhouse, after all, Paula Hawkins’ novel is one of my favourite books. An addictive page turner, unputdownable, gripping until the end. Did the play deliver this level of intensity? In places, yes.

Firstly, this small cast of seven actors were all first-rate. Ruth Moore as Rachel Watson was incredible. Moore convincingly portrayed the character of Rachel, divorcee, alcoholic on the brink of eviction and certainly at the lowest point in her life. Moore brought much needed light and shade to the role, with a few key funny lines making the audience laugh yet maintaining a level of desperation – a need to be heard, seen and believed. Moore was engaging to watch, keeping the audience guessing and fluctuating between feeling suspicious and sympathetic towards Rachel. Could Rachel be responsible for Megan’s disappearance? Rachel’s erratic behaviour, black holes in her memory and unreliable flashbacks (superbly acted by Moore) certainly hint that she could be…

Scarlet Newton as Megan Hipwell was mesmerising. Newton’s moving monologue revealing how Megan’s baby died had the audience gripped. Newton gauged this just right, the perfect level of emotion making this scene wholly believable, heart-rending and appropriately unsettling. Loui Quelcutti (Scott Hipwell) conveyed the two sides of Scott well, varying between loving husband and jealous, angry aggressor placing himself firmly as another key suspect in this gritty whodunnit.

D.I. Gaskill (played by Jonathan Barker) has the difficult task of trying to solve this complex, intertwined, missing person enquiry. Barker gets the balance of being a serious detective and an exasperated and impatient individual spot-on.  Sanjiv Joshi was suitably sensitive as the therapist Kamal Abdic. Joshi was believable as a character who could offer life-changing advice yet be naïve enough to become over-familiar with his clients.

Charmer Tom Watson is brilliantly played by Anthony Morris. Morris is suitably smug with his new wife Anna (played by Bronte James).  The scene at Scott’s house with Tom, Anna, Scott and Rachel was particularly engaging, it was superbly acted by all. Great timing and reactions ensured this scene was suitably toe-curlingly uncomfortable for all involved.

I was certainly intrigued to see how the train would be portrayed on stage. I will not reveal all because this is definitely a play worth watching. Ian Scullion’s set design was extremely impressive. A graffiti-covered subway tunnel remained on stage throughout, a constant reminder of the grim scene of the crime. The technical team excelled in their creation of the illusion of the long, dark underpass tunnel which gave depth to the stage and added a sense of the unknown. This changed to become the entrance/exit to the tunnel, this switch between perspectives, near yet distant was fitting with the theme of memories which re-emerge from distant places in the mind to the fore, revealing key information. The extensive set construction and artistic team created an impressive moveable, rotating set which became the three different homes of Scott and Megan, Rachel and Tom and Anna.

John Cunningham and the sound operation team (Lucy Collins and Christine Mills) heightened the tension within the play with atmospheric sound effects including the wind, incoherent whispers, telephone messages, music and of course, the ever present clatter of the trains. I did, however, find the dialogue between D.I. Gaskill and Rachel somewhat hard to hear under the sound of the pounding rain.

The bar has been set stratospherically high by Paula Hawkins’ phenomenal book (which has sold more than 23 million copies worldwide), it would always be a challenge to portray this psychological thriller on stage. Have the team achieved this?  In my opinion they pulled out all the stops to try to do justice to this gripping story. Perhaps knowing the story well impacts on the level of suspense, however, even those that have read the book will be impressed by the much anticipated ending. I have no doubt that as the week progresses the tension will build, notch by notch and audiences will not be left disappointed.

Gripping, gritty and intriguing, climb aboard for a rollercoaster ride!

Playing until 20th January,

Reviewer: Emma Wild

Reviewed: 15th January 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.