“a richly entertaining piece of theatre driven by starry performances”
“Nobody minded bad behaviour as long as the public didn’t get to hear about it” Louis B. Mayer once told his young star, Mickey Rooney. Since the birth of Hollywood this has been a truism, sustaining the myth of the movie mogul as profane, vulgar, cruel, rapacious and philandering. The only real change these days is that the public does get to hear about it more and more. There is currently one name that everybody will no doubt associate with Barney Fein, the sleaze-ball producer masterfully played by John Malkovitch in David Mamet’s “Bitter Wheat”. But Mamet’s writing points the finger at a longer line of tycoons to produce an amalgam which adds more dimensions to the character. Malkovitch seizes this opportunity to add humour and human traces. But never sympathy.
Nobody escapes the machine-gun fire of Fein’s vitriol that turns to lasciviousness when he meets young actress, Yung Kim Li, to discuss her new film. He promises stardom, and we all know in return for what, especially as he has just had a high dose of a libido-enhancing drug that is just kicking in. Ioanna Kimbook catches on just as quickly with an impressive portrayal of the ingénue’s growing discomfort. It’s in this scene that Mamet’s wit really shines through, with faux-pas in abundance that soon take a darker turn when the inevitable career defining threat arrives.
Sadly, neither character comes out of this well. Nor does the second act which seems to be racing towards its rather farcical conclusion. Naturally, when the police are brought in Fein’s life falls apart. But the actress’ career is destroyed too, before it has started. Fein’s long-suffering secretary is also out of a job. Doon Mackichan downplays the contempt she feels for Fein perfectly – pitching it just right: high enough to be recognised but low enough to avoid the counterattack.
The subplots and sub characters that are tagged onto this central story seem unnecessary. An illegal immigrant who assassinates Fein’s terminally ill mother serves little purpose. The opening scene of the play, on the other hand, in which Fein refuses to pay a screenwriter his due fee is underexplored and unceremoniously discarded. It is in these moments that we are given a stronger insight into the psyche of the extraordinary character that is Barney Fein; and into the machinations of Hollywood. There is a quirkiness to the dialogue that is unmatched by the predictability of the sexual assault headlines.
Overall though, this is a richly entertaining piece of theatre driven by starry performances. Mamet manages to display his usual, exhilarating and unique flair with words, tackling an uncomfortable subject. If anything, however, the humour makes it all a bit too comfortable and doesn’t necessarily advance the issues it is addressing. In this case truth is stranger than fiction.
“the inherently flawed direction and script leaves us feeling a little short changed”
The stage adaptation by Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel of Paula Hawkin’s smash-hit novel, The Girl on The Train, screeches into Brighton prior to transferring to the West End. It puts Rachel Watson, played by Samantha Womack, as an unemployed alcoholic who spies into her ex husband Tom’s home from the train and soon finds herself at the centre of a murder investigation. The victim? Her ex-husband’s mistress, Megan.
Rachel, who yearns for a different life is bitterly grieving for the one she has now lost. The plot is seemingly plucked from thin air as out of the blue, ex-husband Tom (Adam Jackson Smith) comes knocking at the door of her cluttered and untidy flat. He is investigating whether she had any involvement in the murder which happened on the evening she turned up at his house, berating his new wife Anna (Lowenna Melrose).
With crime thriller interest at an all time high with smash-hit TV shows like Broadchurch and Line of Duty, the production ultimately lacks genuine research and integrity which is a shame. The inspector tasked with the case incoherently deals with Rachel as a potential suspect and it doesn’t sit well. DI Gaskell, played rather too melodramatically by John Dougall, gives away confidential information and access to murder scenes which confuses. The relationship between suspect and police could be more intelligent, the psychological analysis of interrogation could have been a strong point but again, the poor writing fails miserably in it’s feeble attempt at being somewhat mildly realistic and poetic.
Director Anthony Banks could do more to raise the stakes within each scene, we are watching a murder investigation and so called ‘psychological thriller’ but yet I do not believe the majority of the performances or staging. The clunky transitions between scenes see Womack walk into a focused light for ten seconds or so with no real purpose except for masking a scene change and ultimately drops the rare bit of energy that is created in the scene before. Womack has a big task in carrying The Girl On The Train as Rachel is centre of every scene but unlike in the novel and film, Rachel lacks real character depth and likeability. I feel for Womack as I know she has the ability to carry a good script, but she is desperately underserved by the writers but supported by the rest of the cast (Oliver Farnworth, Naeem Hayat, Matt Concannon and Phillipa Flynn). One redeeming performance is Kirsty Oswald as Megan, her brief monologues are complex and performed with a real level of emotion and truth.
The Girl On The Train is a clumsy and poorly directed adaptation of a story which is somewhat of a literature phenomenon. Despite it’s stunning design by James Cotterill and admirable ambition, the inherently flawed direction and script leaves us feeling a little short changed.
Reviewed by Nathan Collins
Photography by Manuel Harlan
The Girl on the Train
Theatre Royal Brighton until 22nd June then UK tour continues