This ghost train is about to run off the rails

THE lighting for stage productions seems to be increasingly innovative and therefore more impressive these days.

Designer Jack Knowles has really pulled out all the stops for this adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ best-selling novel.

But with evermore complicated set-ups come problems. And in the case of the first night of this play at Malvern, these manifested in the form of a delay with the curtain going up.

This in turn meant a late start resulting in a late finish – by around 25 minutes. To be sure, not necessarily a problem for car drivers, but very problematic if you’ve got a taxi meter ticking away outside the theatre, or there’s a train to catch other than the one depicted onstage.

Nevertheless, although this particular locomotive was delayed, this is indeed a psychological thriller of the first order when it eventually arrives at the station.

For director Anthony Banks has done a brilliant job with a story that is very much of these times.

Hawkins sets her novel in a world where alienation is the new norm, a universe populated by a human kind enslaved – as we now know only too well – by the tyranny of social media.

The train in the tale is in fact just another type of prison, a capsule packed with people who may be within closer physical proximity, yet are actually isolated strangers.

It is against this bleak backdrop that Hawkins’ saga of relationship breakdown, alcohol dependency, and eventually murder is played out.

There are powerful performances from Samantha Womack as Rachel, a troubled soul who views her distorted existence through the bottom of a vodka bottle, and Oliver Farnworth as the edgy Scott Hipwell, a man whose life is about to go off the rails.

None of this makes for easy, let alone cosy viewing, and there are times when you wish the train would pull into a siding and allow you to get off.

However, we are obliged to cling to our seats, for there is no communication chord to pull on this nightmare express.

Yes, it was well worth the wait. But I do think that technical crews generally must start to take into account the time factor when constructing sets.

After all, there’s nothing insurmountable about deadlines, as any veteran newspaperman will tell you.

The Girl on the Train runs until Saturday (October 26).

John Phillpott

 

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