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“This could be happening to you” – Director Anthony Banks on staging The Girl on the Train

Posted on 7 May 2019

Following its hugely successful West End stage debut in 2018, Paula Hawkins’ nail-biting thriller The Girl on the Train embarks on a new UK tour this year, pulling into the Belgrade Theatre 13-18 May.

EastEnders favourite Samantha Womack stars as Rachel Watson in this edge-of-your-seat production, the character famously portrayed by Emily Blunt on the big screen in 2016. The smash hit film saw the action relocated to the UK, but in the stage version, director Anthony Banks returns Hawkins’ story to its British roots.

“It’s instantly recognisable for that reason,” says Banks. “It could be your street, they could be your neighbours, this could be happening to you.”

Outside the titular train, much of the action of the play takes place in domestic spaces like living rooms and kitchens, with clever design used to render the familiar unfamiliar. Both Banks and set designer James Cotterill drew direct inspiration from Rachel’s descriptions of the “black holes” in her memory, brought on by heavy drinking.

“Because she can’t remember what happened last night or last week she starts to forget who she is,” Banks explains. “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 the wasteland by the train tracks where the body is found.”

The Girl on the Train

“On stage, we can play out a scene between two characters which is naturalistic and believable while showing something that contradicts it,” he adds. “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.”

Adapting a story for a new medium invariably involves making changes, and while the key plot points remain the same in this production, Banks nevertheless believes that even ardent fans of the novel will be surprised by some aspects of The Girl on the Train on stage. In particular, where the narrative in the book is divided between three characters (Megan, Anna and Rachel), on stage, the focus remains firmly on Rachel.

“In the novel, the way that facts are revealed and the sort of drip-drip of that is through three fragmented chronologies. Here, it’s more simple, told across six chronological days, but the scenes withhold information from the audience in hopefully a similarly experiential way to how the novel withholds information from the reader. It’s the same story but the presentation is different.”

The Girl on the Train

And of course, audiences can also look forward to seeing a new performer making the lead role her own.

“Samantha is outstanding and it’s a great collaboration because she is extremely thorough about understanding not only how her character works but also how all the characters and the whole concoction works.”

The Girl on the Train shows at the Belgrade Theatre 13-18 May. Tickets are available to book now.