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The Girl On The Train. Caxton Theatre, Grimsby. 20 April 2024.

The Girl On The Train is a well-known novel, written by Paula Hawkins, later adapted into a film starring Emily Blunt and Luke Evans, among others. The latest production from The Caxton Players is a stage adaptation by writers Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel. Director Stuart Stretton does a magnificent job of bringing a highly complicated script to life using very little in the way of scenery and a cast of nine actors. The settings for each scene are all suggested rather than physically realised with the clever use of a few items to suggest location and some rear projection. This marks an impressive first main house production for Stretton and he can rightly feel happy with his work.

The titular “Girl” is Rachel Watson, played with deep conviction by Debbie Appleyard, giving by far her best performance for the Caxton Players. Her nuanced performance demonstrates a woman on the edge, a woman whose life has already crumbled before the events of this story ever really begin. Rachel is a troubled divorcee, struggling to let go of her marriage, despite the fact that her ex-husband has moved on and had a child with his new, younger, wife. We witness the self-doubt, coupled with self-hatred, that Rachel experiences as she seeks solace in alcohol dependency. She finds herself embroiled in a drama that may or may not be of her making – even Rachel is unsure. Appleyard presents a highly conflicted woman, desperate for understanding as to what has happened and to figure out what part she played in all of this mystery. I was transfixed by her performance and it really stood out for me.

Rachel’s ex-husband, Tom, is played by Michael Howard. He presents us with a clean-cut and clearly loving individual who is deeply sympathetic with his ex-wife’s plight and probably still a little but in love with her if truth be told, much to the chagrin of his new wife, Anna. Anna fails to understand why Tom would pander to the needs of his ex-wife to whom he is paying alimony and giving moral support. Howard’s performance suggests that the light of Tom’s first marriage has yet to be fully extinguished and he plays the role with sensitivity and understanding.

The object of Rachel’s obsession is a missing woman, Megan Hipwell, who Rachel views from the train every morning from the window of a train on her commute. Rachel fantasises about the life such a woman might live and even gives Megan and her husband Scott names before she discovers their true identity. Theirs is an ideal life, a model that Rachel dreams of aspiring to, until one day she sees something that she ought not to have seen. From that point, everything changes. Playing the ethereal Megan, who is only ever seen in flashback is Gemma Quickfall. Quickfall brings all the emotion out of the role as a desperate woman with a dark secret that she is running away from in a very impressive and highly charged performance.

Scott Hipwell, Megan’s grieving husband is a ball of rage and explosive energy played by Keiron James, giving a solid and alarmingly dangerous performance. Who knows what grief can do to a man when his wife disappears? James succeeds in presenting the affable, well-off young husband eager to start a family and deeply in love with his wife, as well as his alternative personality reminding us of an earlier performance perhaps as Jekyll and Hyde a few years ago at the Caxton Theatre.

Megan’s confidante throughout the latter part of her life is her therapist, Kamal Abdic. She is seeing Abdic to explore some of her long-held and repressed memories, exploring the dark recesses of her mind. Abdic is a warm and understanding individual who develops feelings that perhaps overstep the therapist/patient relationship but we do not learn how, or why until later in the play. As Abdic, Dean Wright gives a sympathetic performance wherein, the audience can decide if he is right or wrong to pursue the course he does during this tale. All the time, Wright ensures that he never gives away too much to the audience allowing them to draw their own conclusions about his actions.

As Tom’s new wife, Anna, Katherine Leonard returns to the Caxton’s stage. Anna is a perfect young mother to her and Tom’s baby. She is a doting and devoted mother and a happy, contented wife whose principal concern appears to be the close relationship Tom still has, supporting his ex-wife, who bombards the couple with texts at all hours. Leonard’s performance is highly believable as she implores Tom to cut ties with his mad, alcoholic and potentially dangerous ex-wife. She presents a young mother at the end of her tether, worried anxious and frustrated about what Rachel might be capable. Her highly-charged confrontations with Rachel always convince the audience of the antipathy between the two women.

As the detective who has been assigned the case of missing Megan Hipwell, Ryan Sowerby presents a world-weary police officer in the same slightly worn-out mould as Columbo for readers of a certain age. He appears to shamble his way through the case but is always astutely piecing together the evidence and never truly accusing anyone. It is a thankless role in many ways, but Sowerby gives and excellent performance filled with conviction. He gives Detective Gaskill a rounded persona and is as solid in his delivery as he is shrewd, with questions delving into suspect after suspect’s testimony.

The Girl on the Train is a challenging piece of drama and not to be taken lightly but it is a gripping production that will keep anyone unfamiliar with the story, guessing until the very end. The play runs from 20 April to 27 April at 7:30pm and tickets are available from the usual sources.

Andy Evans 20 April 2024

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