The Girl on the Train

Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Three stars

At His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen,

September 3-7

The Mack

Oran Mor, Glasgow

Three stars

At Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh,

April 23-27


Perth Theatre

Three stars

Touring until May 11


Take a much-loved novel and/or film, add a couple of well-known actors off the telly, then send it out on a (hopefully lucrative) tour of Britain’s grand (and not so grand) receiving houses. Director Anthony Banks’s production of The Girl on the Train (which is based, of course, upon both Paula Hawkins’s famous novel and Tate Taylor’s subsequent movie) is part of a well-worn British theatrical formula.

Samantha Womack of EastEnders fame (as the titular, and deeply troubled, commuter) and Coronation Street’s Oliver Farnworth (playing the bereft and suspected Scott Hipwell) provide the TV star quality to a modern play that stands in the age old tradition of the whodunnit thriller.

Young woman Megan Hipwell is missing and Rachel Watson (Womack) finds herself compelled to become involved in the urgent enquiries of the police. Divorced from the missing woman’s near neighbour Tom Watson (Adam Jackson-Smith as a man very unlike the deputy leader of the Labour Party), Rachel is in the depths of an alcoholism that gives rise to both erratic episodes and memory loss.

In the drama that ensues, a generally strong cast plays on designer James Cotterill’s series of naturalistic and quasi-naturalistic sets, which are augmented by Andrzej Goulding’s semi-cinematic projections. The characters of Rachel, Scott and Tom are joined by Tom’s new wife Anna, Megan’s therapist Kamal Abdic and unusually candid detective D.I. Gaskill in an increasingly labyrinthine plot.

The success of the piece is down as much to Womack’s volatile, precarious and sarcastically humorous performance as it is to the twists and turns of Hawkins’s story.

In truth, you don’t need a PhD in criminology to work out who the killer is sometime before the “reveal”. The drama is more powerful, perhaps, as an exploration of extreme, misogynistic psychological abuse (although it never reaches the heights of Perth Theatre’s recent production of Patrick Hamilton’s Gaslight in this regard).

From a fictional tragedy to a very recent, very real one for the city of Glasgow in The Mack, Rob Drummond’s new work for A Play, a Pie and a Pint. Seeing this piece, which is, primarily, about the devastating fires that ravaged Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s iconic building at the Glasgow School of Art in 2014 and 2018, on Tuesday afternoon, just hours after the blaze at Notre Dame Cathedral, was a discomfiting experience.

It is not hyperbolical to say that many Glaswegians and other admirers of Mackintosh’s masterpiece were able to associate with the tears Parisians shed last Monday night as their cathedral burned. The timing of Drummond’s play was eerily coincidental.

The piece, which is introduced by a legalistic note from the playwright to the effect that opinions expressed are not to be attributed to actual people, is constructed of three interwoven monologues. One is spoken by a fictional, American Mackintosh expert (Janet Coulson), another by an equally fictional Fire Commander (John Michie), and, sitting between them, the third is constructed from Mackintosh’s letters to his wife Margaret in the 1920s, when she was in London and he was staying in the south of France.

This structure feels somewhat awkward and disjointed. The fictional reflections on the fires in 2014 (the fireman) and 2018 (the expert) are more compelling than the letters by Mackintosh, which fail to truly connect with the other monologues (a fact which is not assuaged by James McAnerney’s playing of the artist, which is disappointingly stilted and lacking in expression).

The strongest performance in director Jack Nurse’s production is offered by the ever-excellent Michie. His character finds that the first Mack fire has brought to the surface the long-suppressed emotions of a harrowing career.

The actor has gone through (thanks to his fame) an all-too-public tragedy of his own in recent years. One can’t help but see his own personal pain and dignity reflected in the character he plays so brilliantly here.

Finally, to Marie, a drama which, although not from the stable of A Play, a Pie and a Pint, very well might have been (not least because it is set largely in a pub). Written by Sarah MacGillivray and Phil Bartlett, the piece is a modest, witty, sometimes touching monodrama loosely based on the life of Mary Queen of Scots.

MacGillivray plays a young Scottish woman who arrives in latter day London to conquer, not the crown, but the West End stage and the fame-giving screen. She ends up working in a struggling boozer in which “history night” (in which punters dress and perform as dead historical figures) is proving to be good for business.

Playing not only Marie, but also publicans Liz and Barry, MacGillivray gives a performance of, by turns, comic caricature, engaging interior monologue and, ultimately, keen portrayal of mental distress. Too small in scale, perhaps, to truly express all of its themes, it is, nevertheless, a strong performance of an intriguing little play.

For tour dates for Marie, visit: