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Review: THE PERMANENT WAY, The Vaults

Review: THE PERMANENT WAY, The Vaults

Review: THE PERMANENT WAY, The Vaults We're deep under the railway lines - appropriately for a play that goes deep under British railways' management, specifically the extraordinary transition from British Rail to... well, to a Jackson Pollock-ish splatter painting of companies that made money (some of them) and cost lives (some of them). It becomes obvious why Railtrack, the company charged with maintaining the track, had no engineering department in their Head Office - I mean, where would the contract managers sit?

That botched project is 25 years or so in the past, with the play itself old enough to buy its first railcard in November, so why bother? Pretty much everyone knows that rail privatisation was misconceived no matter where they sit on the political spectrum - privatisation itself having fallen out of favour, with its bastard offspring, PFI, largely seen off too.

Of course, there's too much money in these scams for them ever to die off completely - look out for the same patter merchants in their sharp suits coming to a Question Time near you some time soon. "Brexit dividend" - that's what they'll call it next time round.

David Hare's play chronicles the appalling indifference of politicians and managers and gives those bereaved and injured a much needed authentic voice; Hare's role was primarily in the structuring of the play, the words are largely those of real people (the interviewees, the characters we see). As such, the relevance of the passage of time, even of the specific details of which we hear, becomes less important - because it's all happening right here, right now. Ask the father of a child in an Intensive Care Unit visited by the Prime Minister - and his photographers - just a few days ago.

That's the polemic sorted, but what about the drama? Alexander Lass directs in the round - or rather in the carriage - placing his actors in a long narrow space into which they come and go, each voicing the words of a real person. It can get a little exhausting - the journey is a 100-minute express ride - but the relentlessness of the condemnation gives it real power.

Paul Dodds gives John Prescott and "A Leading Entrepreneur" (you may recognise him, Virgin Trains his domain) a right skewering in the more satirical moments, but the best work comes when anger trumps comedy.

Lucas Hare is a tone-deaf, callous "A Managing Director of Railtrack" who laments the gap in his otherwise stellar CV; Gabrielle Lloyd is a decent "A Bereaved Widow", who cannot understand why her lifelong trust in the authorities has been undermined so completely by their inaction; Jonathan Coote is an idealistic "A British Transport Policeman" who cannot accept his being frustrated at every turn.

The parallels with the causes of the Hillsborough Disaster and its aftermath and the NHS's MRSA scandal jump to mind, but there's lots more too. And yet we still hear about the "burden" of business regulation, the "freedom" entrepreneurs need, the "efficiency gains" of private sector discipline. Follow the money if you want to see who benefits from that rhetoric.

The Permanent Way is at The Vaults until 17 November.

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From This Author - Gary Naylor