“The Permanent Way”

Written by David Hare, shown at the Playhouse

Reviewed by Sue Hunter

This is a play about the Railways.
As one of the characters near the beginning says: "I can’t imagine who would want to write a play about the railways. It’s an incredibly boring subject." "People who want to talk about railways are by definition nerds."

In fact, this was an evening of high drama and emotion, about horror and corruption, terror and tenderness.
The action was based on scores of interviews with the survivors and bereaved of four main crashes, treasury officials, bankers, engineers, track workers, a managing director of Railtrack, and many others. Also depicted was a manic and evasive John Prescott.

The excellent cast draws us into the lives of these people involved in the train service and its disasters, using humour, compassion and anger.
John Hare, the writer, has built up a picture of the madness and chaos of privatisation, conveying complex information through his characters, without ever lecturing or preaching.

The Bereaved Widow tells of the corruption of companies and bureaucrats. Not of ‘greased palms’ but of their conspiracy (the politicians, Railtrack, Jarvis) to do nothing: "The response of ordinary people is different." She tells of a taxi driver, who, on learning he was carrying bereaved passengers to a memorial service, turned off his metre saying, "It’s the least I can do." She says, "They know, you see. People know."

On June 24th [2003] Jarvis announced record profits for the year following the Potter’s Bar crash.

Two quotes from the accompanying pamphlet:

"Between 1992 and 1997, the number of workers permanently employed to maintain and renew the infrastructure fell from 31,000 to between 15,000 and 19,000." Ian Jack, who wrote ‘The Crash that Stopped Britain’

"They [the Conservatives] want to replace a comprehensive, co-ordinated national railway network with a hotchpotch of private companies linked together by a gigantic bureaucratic paperchase of contracts – overseen of course by a clutch of Quangos. As the public learn about the chaos and cost, their anger at this folly will grow." Tony Blair, 1995

10 May 2002 Potters Bar: Seven people have died and over 70 are injured.
17 October 2000 Hatfield: Four people were killed and a further 35 were hurt.
5 October 1999 Ladbroke Grove: Thirty-one people were killed.
19 September 1997 Southall: Seven people killed.