PAULA Hawkins’ 2015 novel The Girl on the Train is not only a publishing phenomenon, selling more than 1,500,000 copies in weeks, but it marked the move of the traditional British Murder Mystery into the 21st century.
This is a story of urban loneliness, where one’s whole identity is tied up in “social” media jargon, and the misery that follows failure, real or imagined, is ameliorated by drink or drugs.
Rachel Watson is a disaster area. Divorced, sacked from her job and living in squalour, she finds her harbour in the bottle. Desperately trying to retain some normality in her disintegrating world, she travels on the train every day as though going to work and returning home. From the train, in the same railwaylineside street where she used to live with her husband Tom, she sees a couple who seem to be blissfully happy. Rachel fantasises names and a whole scenario of married life for them, as a benchmark for the failure of her own life.
Then one day, through a vodka-fuelled haze, she sees something that jars against her vision of perfection.
And so starts an accelerating chain of events that plunges Rachel, Tom and his new wife Anna, Scott (the “husband” seen from the train) and others into a psychological conundrum, where red herrings come and go with the momentary brightness and noise of a passing train.
Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel have adapted the book for a touring stage production, tautly directed by Anthony Banks, and effectively designed and lit by James Cotterill and Jack Knowles.
EastEnders regular Samantha Womack stars as Rachel, with Oliver Farnworth as Scott and Adam-Jackson Smith as Tom in this unfolding tale of subterfuge, misery and redemption. It keeps the audience on tenterhooks till the end.
The lengthy tour is at Bath Theatre Royal until Saturday 13th April, and returns south to Plymouth Theatre Royal at the end of its run, from 30th September to 5th October.