The Girl on the Train

25th February to 4th March 2023

Duncan Abel & Rachel Wagstaff | The Crescent Theatre | Directed by Rod Natkiel

The stage adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ bestselling 2015 novel is proving to be a popular choice for amateur theatre companies. I reviewed a production of ‘The Girl on the Train’ at Sutton Arts Theatre back in September 2022 so was looking forward to seeing how the Crescent Theatre’s latest main house production tackled this challenging story of mystery and suspense.

For those unfamiliar with the book, or film version, the ‘Girl’ of the title is Rachel Watson, an alcoholic divorcee in her thirties who develops a fixation on a seemingly perfect couple she spies from the train on her daily commute. The sudden disappearance of the woman and Rachel’s subsequent investigation leads her deeper in to a mystery in which she is both witness and suspect. No plot spoilers here: the play moves backwards and forwards in time as we slowly piece together the facts surrounding the woman’s disappearance.

It’s a piece which presents considerable staging challenges, as acknowledged by director Rod Natkiel. The Crescent main house is a large space which allows for the various locations in the story to be permanently on stage. Whilst this does avoid the necessity for set changes, it leaves parts of the stage empty for long periods which contributes to a lack of tension at times. The use of pre-recorded footage filmed on a local train, however, injects pace into the action throughout the production.

The seven-strong cast are impressive. I have been lucky enough to see many of them in other productions at the Crescent and the standard of acting is incredibly high. Productions here never feel amateur and I felt the company did an excellent job presenting what often feels like a clunky script.

Grace Cheatle’s performance as Rachel is nuanced and powerful. She captures the drunken confusion of the unreliable title character brilliantly and her relationship with former husband Tom (Tom Lowde - excellent) is charged with bitterness and resentment. Flashback scenes with Charlotte Thompson’s Megan, the woman who is missing at the start of the story, develop the play’s themes of infidelity and motherhood.

Oliver Jones is volatile and unpredictable as Megan’s controlling husband Scott in a performance which also manages to capture the character’s insecurity and confusion at times. And there’s excellent support from David Baldwin’s Detective Inspector Gaskill, Papa Yentumi’s Dr. Kamal Abdic and Victoria Youster’s Anna Watson (Tom’s new wife).

Despite my reservations about the script, ‘The Girl on the Train’ is an intriguing and popular story. The success of the novel and film adaptation will hopefully continue to guarantee that this stage adaptation attracts audiences. This production certainly deserves to be seen.

‘The Girl on the Train’ is playing at The Crescent Theatre until 4th March 2023.

The Girl on the Train