Review: The Girl on the Train at Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Friday 17th June 2022 at Upstairs at the Gatehouse.


Reviewer: Maygan Forbes

An exciting piece of theatre in the heart of North London! The international phenomenon novel by Paula Hawkins has been adapted into a thrilling new stage adaption by Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel.

The Girl on a Train tells the story of Rachel Watson (played by Katie Ray), whilst commuting back and forth from work she becomes fixated on a couple who seemingly lives the life she so desperately longs for. Or so it appears. When Rachel learns her spying eyes have immediately launched her as the prime suspect of a murder case, the world around her begins to unravel, and the audience are exposed to a variety of twists and turns that threaten the peace of Rachel’s imagined world. If you’re familiar with the novel or the film, the play has remained true to the source material.

Rachel remains an unreliable narrator due to her intoxicated state, her ex husband (played by Tom Gordon) remains an abusive turd, and the detectives remain pompous and inefficient (played by Cavin Cornwall). There wasn’t anything particularly new that was added to the stage play however that’s not a critique by any means. It was exciting to see how such a fantastic novel and it’s equally fantastic predecessor of the film had been adapted to fit the world of physical theatre.

There was a lot the play did that made it a successful adaptation to stage. The Girl on a Train deals with a lot of heavy themes, many are subtle and fly under the radar however it’s hard to ignore. Rachel was in an abusive relationship with her ex husband Tom, however due to her constant state of alcoholic disillusion, she wasn’t cognisant to this fact until she sees similar patterns with the treatment of Tom’s new wife Anna (played by Tori Hargreaves). The scenes detailing the subtlety of Tom’s manipulation and silent narcissism are extremely uncomfortable which only adds further to the tension of the play. The audience are left on edge whilst wondering if Tom’s victims will ever take a stand against him.

Katie Ray’s acting in The Girl on the Train is superb and she really steps into the shoes of the ‘Rachel Watson’ character. Her portrayal of an alcoholic was delicate yet powerfully distinct; when we are introduced to Rachel she is slumped over on the floor of her apartment (which is also shrouded with empty alcohol bottles) – a not so overt way of telling the audience that Rachel is not a stable character.

This introduction intensifies her obsessive behaviours and we, as the audience, start piecing our own mystery puzzle together. Can Rachel be trusted in her narration? What does she stand to gain from being so invested in the life of a missing stranger? Is this entire story just an imagined version of reality for Rachel? She lives in her own mind and has created a narrative on the missing victim Megan Hipwell’s (played by Chrystine Symone) life so it’s not so far from the truth that Rachel’s reality is twisted. The play definitely plays tricks on your mind as we delve deeper into the story.

The set design (headed by Richard Cooper) and the lighting (headed by Seb Blaber) only served to intensify the plot unfolding on stage and did a great job in contributing to the suspense and shady atmosphere. There are eyes on the stage watching everyone’s moves and no body is safe from the truth being exposed. The sound (headed by Sam Glossop) became attached to the stage in a way, the ominous noise made it clear that a threat was lurking in the distance. The play had an interval after the first hour and during the entirely of the interval, the sound continued to play throughout the theatre. A conscious decision by the creative team that nearly made me feel intoxicated with the anxiety of a menacing danger nearby. In horror and thriller films, sound is one of the most important components of maintaining the threat throughout the plot and The Girl on the Train uses this technique to the production’s advantage.

Overall, this is a good play that will have you teetering off the edge of your seat. If you are a fan of thriller/horror forms of entertainment (like myself) you may enjoy the The Girl on the Train play. It’s a slow burner but will keep you alert with the constant twists and turns.

The Girl on the Train plays at Upstairs at the Gatehouse until July 3rd 2022 and you can find tickets here.

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