Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

A Look at How It's Gone off the Rails

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

A Look at How It's Gone off the Rails

Article excerpt

Byline: By David Whetstone

David Hare is a playwright who keeps a shrewd eye on the decision-makers. You might recall his Church of England satire Racing Demon, at Newcastle Theatre Royal, when the place was full of dog collars.

He did the same for the legal system in Murmuring Judges and the armed forces in The Absence Of War, completing what became known as his `state of the nation' trilogy.

He has been at it again. The Permanent Way looks at the state of the nation's railways since privatisation by the Conservatives in 1991 - before, states the playwright, "an election they did not expect to win".

Presumably the idea must have been a better - and not just a cheaper - system, but it has hardly worked out that way, as many a disgruntled rail commuter will tell you.

But no-one, surely, can have predicted the grief and carnage resulting from a succession of rail crashes - Southall, Ladbroke Grove, Hatfield and Potters Bar. It has been easy to conclude over the past decade that the railways aren't working as they should.

Hare's new play, which arrives in Newcastle tonight on a pre-London tour, is a co-production between the National Theatre and Out Of Joint, the company run by director Max Stafford-Clark, who is also known for plays exposing uncomfortable truths about modern British life.

It has had fulsome reviews, with critics expressing surprise that an ostensibly dull subject like rail privatisation could be made so gripping.

Stafford-Clark says he was first drawn to the subject by an article written by journalist Ian Jack. "It was about the state of the railways but it had a kind of nostalgia about it - not for the railways themselves but for a different set of values.

"One of the themes of the play is the way in which a faith in traditional engineering skills has been replaced by the values of the Harvard Business School, which decree that if you can manage a chain of shoe shops, you can manage a railway. …

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