She kicked off her television career playing a sex addict in the BBC sitcom Game On, died spectacularly trying to save her sister from drowning in Eastenders and has just been seen as DI Kate Ashton making an out and out pass at forensic scientist, Jack, in Silent Witness.
Now Samantha Womack is taking on the role of the troubled alcoholic Rachel Watson in The Girl on the Train, the stage adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ best-selling novel, which starts a UK tour in Milton Keynes Theatre this week.
Q: Samantha has been here many times before in touring shows such as Guys and Dolls, South Pacific and, memorably, playing Queen Rat in MKT’s panto, Dick Whittington, just a couple of years ago. Milton Keynes Theatre audiences think of Sam as one of their own but, on a scale of one to ten… how would she rate the experience of working at MKT?
A: It’s an eight or nine. It’s one of my favourite theatres.
Q: What has been the highlight of the shows that you’ve done here?
A: Gosh, I’ve done all sorts there but I think it would have to be South Pacific. There’s something so romantic about it. We had lots of rolling sand dunes and on that wide stage it’s just a lovely space to put it on.
Q: MKT is celebrating its 20th birthday this year. What were you doing 20 years ago?
A: I would have just been doing Game On which was co-written by Andrew Davies whose adaptation of Les Misérables is on TV at the moment. He is well-known for doing those period adaptations – like War and Peace and Pride and Prejudice - but he always called Game On his little dark horse. It always made me laugh because I thought of his day job as the classic adaptations and his night job was the dark humour of Game On.
Q: Have you read the book of The Girl on the Train or seen the film?
A: Yes, all of that. I tried not to read the book too close to doing the play. It’s a very complicated thing when you’re doing an adaptation. If you’re not careful the details that you have read or seen can inform what you’re doing and the problem is, the piece is the piece and that’s what the audience are seeing. So sometimes if you’re colouring it with additional facts or details that the audience haven’t seen it can be confusing. Although the characters and the origins of the play are the same you really have to treat it as a separate piece.
Q: How do you approach the tricky business of acting drunk and being an alcoholic?
A: I never think of being drunk. I think there’s nothing worse than the affectations of being drunk like slurring your speech, stumbling around or being unsteady. You can work all that in at a later date. It’s more what happens to people’s behaviour when they’re drunk and people behave in very different ways. I try to approach it as if she has no boundaries. With Rachel it makes her very unpredictable and she really says what she means. She has a kind of tendency for rage anyway and so I try and think of those personality traits rather than just being drunk.
Q: You have just been seen playing DI Kate Ashton in last week’s episodes of Silent Witness on BBC TV. You were making a big play for forensic scientist Jack Hodgson. Is there any possibility of her re-appearing on another case?
A: We have talked about it but I will be busy touring for the next half year or so but I really, really like the idea of her character. We all thought it was an interesting possibility. There is good chemistry between the characters. David Caves, who plays Jack, is great fun to work with and Emilia Fox (who plays Dr. Nikki Alexander) is just delightful and incredibly driven and passionate about the job and I found that really exciting to be part of. When I first read it my initial reaction was that I was worried. Kate Ashton is a female character in a high-powered, often male-dominated role and I didn’t want her to be all about having a relationship because it’s hard enough for women to get into a position of power. I didn’t want to depict her as if that didn’t matter. But what I thought was an interesting twist was that actually, on the flip side, she was the predator, using her position to manipulate the situation especially in the light of the #MeToo campaign. We often forget that women in positions of power can abuse it too. I found that really exciting and why would she be doing that? I think her private life was pretty damaged and I tried to flavour it with that. And I’m glad if that came across.
Q: You live within a half hour drive of MKT. Did you have any say in where the run of the show started?
A: No, I’m not that important! We had to adjust the schedule to what theatres were available at the time but for me it’s incredibly fortunate to start in MK. Partly because it’s the week I’m ill (Samantha has had a chest infection) and also because it’s the beginning of the run which is often the most stressful. It’s a Hamlet for me, this play. I never leave the stage and there’s more dialogue than I’ve ever learnt in my life before so it’s really nice that I’m at home for that first week.
Q: If someone has read the book and seen the film is there still a good reason to come and see the stage show?
A: Yes, characters will always be interpreted differently by the people who are playing them. What you’ll know is that it’s a psychological thriller and that Rachel is an anti-heroine which I love and which I think made her popular. She does all the things and says all the things that you shouldn’t but I think there’s something exciting about watching someone behave that way. It’s as dark and sometimes as humorous as I remember from the book and so if someone liked the book and liked the film then this will be a good addition.
Buy tickets to to see The Girl on the Train - https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-girl-on-the-train/milton-keynes-theatre/