Thriller fans are clearly in for a treat when director Anthony Banks promises the stage adaptation of The Girl On The Train “is absolutely packed with twists and turns”.

Anthony, after all, has a string of acclaimed thrillers to his credit but even he has to admit: “This has even more twists and turns than I’ve ever had to juggle before.”

Scripted by Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel, the play – which runs at the Oxford Playhouse until Saturday, with Samantha Womack in the lead – is an adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ 2015 novel.

The 2016 film version starring Emily Blunt relocated the story to the United States but the stage version returns it to its UK roots.

It revolves around Rachel Watson, an unhappy alcoholic who thinks the couple she sees from her computer train every day are perfectly in love. Then the wife Megan disappears and, as Rachel inveigles her way into the life of Megan’s husband Scott, she finds herself both a witness and potential suspect.

Acclaimed for his direction of Strangers On A Train and Gaslight, set in the 1950s and 1930s respectively, Banks believes the fact The Girl On The Train is set in the present day, in familiar but unspecified locations, is an extra lure for theatregoers. “It’s instantly recognisable for that reason,” says the director, “and it could be your street, they could be your neighbours, this could be happening to you.”

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He was intrigued by the visual potential of Hawkins’ plot, saying: “On stage we can play out a scene between two characters which is naturalistic and believable while showing something that contradicts it. It’s a crime drama that takes place across a week, each day they get closer to finding out who the perpetrator is and all the evidence is about images and identity.”


The action takes place in domestic spaces, like living rooms and kitchens, and of course there’s also a train. Anthony and designer James Cotterill have taken inspiration from Rachel in the novel talking about having a black hole in her memory.

Before rehearsals the director met Paula Hawkins and they talked about how Rachel is losing her grip on her identity because of the effect heavy drinking has on her short-term memory.

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“Because she can’t remember what happened last night or last week she starts to forget who she is. Her identity is eroding and she describes it as a black hole so the design is also a black hole in which appear domestic spaces, a train, a police cell, an interrogation room and also the wasteland by the train tracks where the body is found.”

Rachel is a dream role for Samantha Womack, who recalls being gripped by the novel when she read it, and also a challenging one. “There are about 70 pages of dialogue for me to learn,” says the actress best known for playing Ronnie Mitchell in EastEnders. “It’s like playing Hamlet.” Samantha smiles. “I never shut up.”

Having appeared in the West End in Guys And Dolls and toured in South Pacific and The Addams Family, Womack isn’t as worried by all that dialogue as she is about playing a convincing drunk.


“It’s a really hard thing to do,” she says. “Drink is like a truth syrup that removes all the boundaries so rather than a comical element, with the slurring and slipping up, I think Rachel’s just completely unpredictable. It’s about what happens when she’s drunk and where does her brain go?”

Her co star, Scott, is Coronation Street star Oliver Farnworth (Andy Carver on the soap until 2017), is careful not to give spoilers. He says: “Throughout the play you’re drip-fed more information about him so the audience gets to build up a case file. Has he been left by his wife? Has something happened to make her run away?”

Having been a bit of a bad lad in Corrie prior to which he was manipulative Will Hacket in Hollyoaks, the actor adds: “Roles like this are more interesting to me as an actor rather than playing the prince charming, nice guy, boyfriend-next-door sort of thing. I like roles that have a bit of meat and a bit of weight to them.”

“There are more twists than you can shake a stick at. Be prepared to be twisted!”

  • The Girl on the Train is at the Oxford Playhouse until Saturday.
  • Tickets start at £10 and are available on 01865 305305 or