Theatre review The Permanent Way Waterloo Vaults
- Credit: Photograph by Nobby Clark
A timely revival of Hampstead playwright David Hare’s savaging of rail privatisation reminds us how profits and self serving politicians sacrificed transport safety
David Hare's fierce anti-privatisation polemic debuted in 2003 in the railway town of York.
Fitting, then, to have the revival in the catacomb of arches under Waterloo Station.
The Permanent Way was a angry response to a clutch of train accidents that killed dozens, injured hundreds and bereaved thousands.
I was keen to see how it had fared both as a piece of drama and a critique of post millenium politics.
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In the time it takes to get to Birmingham on a fast train, Hare's play gives voice to all players in the scandal. The politicians (including John "It must never happen again." Prescott), civil servants, financiers and investors ("All we want is a steady 12 percent return"), rail executives, rail workers and drivers, police, rescuers and lawyers, families of victims and those directly involved in the crashes.
The sparkling dialogue is based on interviews and has an authenticity and directness impossible to emulate in a conventional play.
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Everything is open to examination. John Major recently positioned himself as a defender of democracy, but he initiated this most flawed of privatisations which atomised a great industry; relegated engineers as necessary inconveniences and over-promoted bean counters and marketing people.
It encouraged cost cutting and a culture of make-do and risk which continued after Blair's 1997 election. The drama is superb: brilliant, committed performances, sensitive direction in a space which eerily reverberates to the bdum-bdum of carriage bogies crossing the points above.
Although many factors are rightly identified (cut backs, cancelled training, fuzzy accountability) Hare has made the simple equation that privatisation equals disasters.
He allows the audience to fill in the gaps of a full understanding with their own prejudices rather than try to understand how dogma could have produced such a flawed project.
Nevertheless, his passion and anger count for much and audiences might conclude that the cynical opportunism of politicians 20 years ago contributed to our current transport chaos. Did anyone say Southern Rail?