Socialist Worker

The Permanent Way: a play on the right track about rail privatisation

Thomas the Tank Engine it isn't. David Hare's play about rail privatisation has upset the right wing media

Issue No. 1880

'All over the world this year, we are seeing the same phenomenon of electorates waiting, bewildered or furious for their own leaders to catch up with them, and trying to understand the mystery of their refusal.'

That quote from playwright David Hare gives you an insight into the feeling that lies behind his play The Permanent Way. Go and see it for an excellent night of political theatre.

The play is about the murderous effects of rail privatisation. Hare and a group of performers interviewed those involved at every level in this disastrous policy and its consequences.

These interviews were then shaped into a powerful play that centres on four rail crashes.

We see arrogant bankers and government officials describe how they broke the rail system up into 113 pieces and turned it into a successful money-spinner. New workers are shown being recruited to do skilled work without training.

They have very little idea who even employs them as the subcontracting of work becomes more complex and confusing.

As the drive for profit leads to rail crashes the companies are sent scurrying around looking for a scapegoat (the train driver is the favourite). People are informed about their dead relatives by Ceefax.

The play shows the boss of Railtrack trying to claim his company as a success because it has doubled its share price in two years. He then is shown as slightly bewildered by the growing tide of protest, recalling that at its height 'Socialist Worker put up 600 pictures of me all over the underground. The caption read 'Wanted for Serial Killing.' My mother used to close her eyes and only open them between stations.'

But it's not just individual managers who get hammered. A transport policeman investigating the Southall crash argues that this was 'an avoidable crash at every level'.

Following 'an audit trail' of responsibility he concludes that it is a case of corporate crime in which, 'You take it backwards from the driver to supervisors to managers, to managing directors, and then finally to government policy.'

Each crash is followed by John Prescott blustering onto the stage to say, 'This must never happen again.' A bereaved mother bitterly claims that 'the pattern goes: Rail accident. Inquiry. Recommendation. No action. Rail accident. Inquiry. Recommendation. No action.'

As she speaks, the Hatfield crash takes place on a huge screen behind her.

This play is about a nightmare process that David Hare argues is typical of current government. He was in part motivated to write it by his anger at a similar sequence of disregard for human life and the wishes of the majority which ended in the war against Iraq.

It is partly why this play has struck such a chord with packed audiences and enthusiastic critics. It is a play about a world that needs to be changed.

The Permanent Way is touring: 2-6 December, Theatre Royal, Bath; 8 December, Trades and Labour Club, Sheffield; 10-13 December, Live Theatre, Newcastle; 19 December, St Ethelreda's Church, Hatfield; 8 January-1 May, National Theatre, London; 4-8 May, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds; 11-15 May, Oxford Playhouse.

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Sat 6 Dec 2003, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1880
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