Girl on the Train arrives at final destination Blackpool Opera House
It’s been a long journey for the 2019 touring cast of Girl on the Train.
This week the production arrives at its final destination at the Opera House, Winter Gardens in Blackpool.
Lead actor Samantha Womack will complete her final six nights playing anti-heroine Rachel - it’s been intense and exhausting but a role she’s incredibly proud of.
She says: “It is definitely one of the hardest parts I’ve had to date, emotionally, mentally, physically, it’s taken so much.
“Rachel goes to such a dark, dark place but it’s been fascinating how it’s evolved over the course of the year.
“We’ve come so far since we started in January and as a cast we are incredibly tight, it’s really interesting how we’ve played off each other and how that has changed the longer we’ve gone on.
“We’re all quite experimental actors and I think Anthony Banks (show’s director) cast us that way to fit the context of the play.
"It is quite a brave way to do it but it has kept each show fresh and the show has gone from strength-to-strength as a result.”
The play has been adapted from Paula Hawkins gripping thriller, the internationally acclaimed number one best-selling novel of the same name and brought to the stage by Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel, and directed by Banks.
Alongside Womack is another former soap star Oliver Farnworth as Scott, John Dougall as DI Gaskill, Naeem Hayatt as Kamal Abdic, Adam Jackson-Smith as Tom Watson, Lowenna Melrose as Anna Watson, and Kirsty Oswald as Megan Hipwell.
Samantha adds: “After nearly a year on the road, while it is hard, we’re all now at the top of our game and it’s a well seasoned show.
“It’s been hard work but I’ve really loved this role, the immediacy of theatre, even those times I’ve felt I haven’t got anything left, but you get out there and the feel for the stage kicks in and this sudden burst of energy.
“It’s hardcore and stressful because I’m being shouted at, I’m shouting a lot and I’m crying a lot, so I’m having to tap into something deep inside me and my body is releasing a lot of cortisol. Everyone in rehearsals kept asking how I was going to keep it up.
“At the beginning, just realising I could get through the dense dialogue was a relief. Rachel’s thoughts are so incoherent that the lines were much harder to learn than if it had been a simple narrative.
“I’ve literally lived and breathed Rachel. It’s intense, she is on stage for the whole performance. I never shut up
Those who are familiar with the book will be pleased that the stage script brings the story back to it’s UK roots.
The 2016 film, starring Emily Blunt and Luke Evans was relocated to the United States.
It revolves around Rachel Watson, an unhappy alcoholic who thinks the couple she sees from her commuter train every day are living a perfect existence.
Then the wife Megan disappears and, as Rachel manipulates her way into the life of Megan’s husband Scott, she ends finding herself both a witness and potential suspect.
The book structure is told the story through three threads, Rachel, Megan and Anna. In the show the audience watch Rachel as the focal point.
Samantha adds: “This stage version is more in line and faithful to the book story than the film - you can literally feel the audience really delving into Rachel’s mind as the narrative unfolds.
“The level of silence in the theatre, you can hear a pin drop and then the gasps in the second half - people holding their breath from the shock.
“The theatre is great for really building that intrigue as people get totally absorbed in the experience and then for even those who are familiar with the story there are different twists.
“The unpredictability makes it exciting and it’s been strange to feel the pulse of it change from space to space.
“It’s also more loyal in that there is that essential familiarity of English trains looking out on to suburban Victorian terraces with extensions and conservatories spilling out to the railway.”
Mother of two Samantha, 46, who first came to fame on television screens as Mandy Wilkins in the sitcom Game On , is perhaps best known for her role as Ronnie Mitchell in Eastenders.
She made her debut in the soap in 2007, leaving initially in 2011. She returned to the role in 2013 , making her final exit in 2017 when Ronnie was killed off in a dramatic exit.
Her recent stage credits include Morticia in The Adam’s Family, South Pacific and Guys and Dolls.
“I miss my EastEnders friends and family and they really are a family -you become incredibly connected.
“But the sitting around on set, the long lonely hours of TV, I was ready to take some time out of that and the strange thing is, as I’ve got older I’ve got more confident in some ways but then still get a bit nervous about what I’m doing next.
"It was right place, right time for this role, I’ve loved theatre, you have all the build up, you come in get ready, out on stage and you’re done. I’m sure I will do more.
“I’ve got some comedy lined up for next year, which will be a bit of welcome relief but then we will see.
“I’m looking forward to some time off and just to be mum again.”
The crime drama on stage takes place across a week, each day they get closer to finding out who the perpetrator is.
The action takes place in domestic spaces, living rooms and kitchens, and ,of course, there’s also a train.
Anthony Banks and designer James Cotterill have taken inspiration from Rachel in the novel talking about having a black hole in her memory.
An expert in the genre, Banks says theatregoers are drawn to thrillers because they tap into the fascination with good and evil and a desire to know whodunnit.
The specific hook with The Girl On The Train, he feels, is that it revolves around an anti-heroine.
And Samantha agrees: “The audience like myself go on a real journey with Rachel, excuse the pun.
“She’s a protagonist and there is this love -hate relationship as she really is not nice, flawed, complicated.
“But by the second half 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.
"By the ending people are just wow - it touches the audience .”
Samantha says over the course of the tour she has had to channel into the worse parts of Rachel’s character to do it justice.
“I’ve been a bit unruly and unkempt to be honest.
“Slobbish, hair unwashed. I start the show puking up in a pizza box.
“But to really add the depth , you have to go there just to let go and be more convincing for the audience
“Rachel is so petulant and rude that even though she has a lot of victim self-pity, she doesn’t need to be liked. In between the darkness there are some fleeting funny moments.
“It’s been tough but fun.”
Girl on a Train opens at the Opera House from Tuesday, November 19 until 25.
Performances at 2.30pm and 7.30pm.
Tickets from £15, www.wintergardensblackpool.co.uk