Simon Button speaks with Samantha Womack and Oliver Farnworth on their intense roles as Rachel Watson and Scott Hipwell in the UK tour of The Girl on the Train.
The play – which is touring the UK until July 2019 - features Samantha Womack as the lead and is an adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ 2015 bestselling novel.
The story revolves around Rachel Watson, an unhappy alcoholic who thinks the couple she sees from her commuter train everyday are in love but when the wife Megan disappears, Rachel finds herself as both a witness and a potential suspect.
Samantha Womack recalls being gripped by the novel when she read it herself and describes Rachel as the dream role, but it isn’t one that comes without its challenges. “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 the amount of 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 is just completely unpredictable. It’s about what happens when she’s drunk and where her brain goes.”
Co-star Oliver Farnworth, who plays Scot Hipwell, husband of missing Megan, comments on his own role: “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.”
He adds: “All the characters in the play are multi-faceted and complex. It’s not a good/baddie story. All the characters are slightly flawed and that makes for interesting, exciting drama.”
Samantha’s character is clear evidence of that and she adds: “There’s something about Rachel’s devil-may-care rebellion that appeals to lots of people. She says what you shouldn’t say, she thinks what you shouldn’t think, she’s a victim of circumstance and you have sympathy for her because of everything she’s been through.”
While the story, and the role of each of the characters are intense in their own way, Samantha’s character Rachel doesn’t leave the stage for the entire show. “And that terrifies me,” Womack admits. “I don’t always take things in at first and it wasn’t until the middle of rehearsals that it hit me that ‘oh, it’s basically just one long scene for me’. I never get to leave the stage and regroup. One scene leads me straight into another and it’s like a dance.”
The actress agrees that the show has jolts and surprises whether or not you’ve read the novel. “Yes we’re replicating the story but there are changes and nuances that are very different. I hope that by the time they leave the theatre people been shaken about a bit.”
Farnworth agrees and grins, “There are more twists than you can shake a stick at. Be prepared to be twisted!”
The UK tour of The Girl on the Train has now begun, and is due to head to venues in Leicester, Bath, Glasgow and Northampton, among others, before concluding at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford in July.
GTOs wishing to book tickets should contact their chosen venue.
For more information, visit www.girlonthetrainplay.com.
Images: Samantha Womack and Oliver Farnworth in the UK tour of The Girl on the Train (Photo Credits: Manuel Harlan)