- June 18, 2019
Novel to film and now to stage, one had too question how this complex construct could work. Would it to be too fresh in our minds, could the episodic nature of the story be conveyed in a theatre? Well misgivings should be cast aside because this is the most convincing and most thrilling stage adaptation for a great many years. The plot is superb, but we knew that of course, why else would both book and film be such huge successes. What triumphs here is skilful and inspired theatrical staging and of course a brilliant cast – but before that cast let’s take a look at the set and lighting. The story moves at a pace and with it the set, the train is cleverly realised by a simple screen of windows and beautifully realised projections through which we see the troubled central figure. Three rooms seamlessly slide in and out, an underpass is created with light alone and the lighting throughout is brilliant. The whole is contained in a jet black box in which the story unfolds. Quite frankly the best designed production, for its sparse realism, that I have see for a long time. Full marks to the team of James Cotterill – set and costume, Jack Knowles – lighting and Andrzej Goulding – projections, and to Ben and Max Ringham for their chilling composition and soundscape.
Now to the cast, Tom Watson is wonderfully contained and caring as ex husband Tom, Lowenna Melrose the new wife is duly jealous and possessive, John Dougall’s DI Gaskill is calm and measured and Oliver Farnworth plays Scott with believable disbelief as the story unfolds. Kirsty Oswald is a disturbingly disturbed ghost of Megan, drifting into play in a simple shift that gradually goes from blood red to black.
At the heart of the story of course is that woman on that train, Rachel Watson, played with compelling skill by Samantha Womack. Here is a woman at the lowest ebb of her crumbling life, confronted by a set of circumstances, blurred by depression and by booze – but not blurred enough that she does not realise that something she has seen, from that train, is not right, far from it. Womack’s performance is flawless, chilling and moving at the same time.
Director Anthony Banks handles the whole with deft restraint, beautifully still at moments, he keeps every role in check, never allowing or encouraging excess. This effectively balances the purity and realism of the performances against the stylish setting and beautifully managed cameo moments when figures drift in silence through the set. If only more directors had the ability to know when to stop!
Whether you have read the book or seen the film this rendering is unmissable, the very finest piece of staging I have seen for some time, a thriller that is not pastiche but takes stage presentation to a new and exciting new level. Surely this is destined to be a West End hit!
Theatre Royal Brighton