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The Permanent Way review – The Vaults

4 star review

Sometimes plays are staged in perfect places, and here’s a first class example.

This revival of David Hare’s scathing examination of railway privitisation takes place in the tunnels under London’s Waterloo Station, and is soundtracked by the constant rumbling of trains overhead.

The play consists almost entirely of first-hand accounts of people involved in British Rail’s privatisation in the mid-1990s, and of the devastating testimonies of the survivors and the bereaved of the four rail disasters that followed – Southall, Ladbroke Grove, Hatfield and Potters Bar.

Director Alexander Lass gets things off to a brisk start with his nine-strong cast hurrying around the stage like commuters on a busy concourse in the rush hour.

Then we meet the individuals – the civil servant, the banker, the rail executive, the rail engineer, the union leader, the politician, the crash survivors and grieving parents – whose interwoven personal stories make up this play.

The cast of The Permanent Way (photo: Nobby Clark)

Some lines you will never unhear. Like the relative of a crash victim being told “when you are thrown from the window, you always lose your shoes”. Or the terrifying account of a train derailment at 100mph.

Amongst the many harrowing accounts there are some lighter moments, such the series of encounters with a brusque John Prescott (a spot on performance by Paul Dodds). It’s fair to say the politicians and the men in suits don’t come out of this well.

One of Hare’s interviewees suggests that a play about railways is “an incredibly boring subject”. It is anything but. He asks searching questions about corporate responsibility and the notion of “profit over people”. There are no comfortable answers. Don’t be surprised to find yourself walking out of the dark tunnels under Waterloo in shock and anger.

(The press performance on 19 September took place on the 22nd anniversary of the Southall rail crash and was dedicated to those who lost their lives, and those who were injured.)

The Permanent Way is at The Vaults, Waterloo, until 17 November
















The Falcon’s Malteser review – The Vaults

3 star review

With the school holidays now under way, here’s a delightful detective caper that will help keep the kids the amused over the summer.

Adapted from the 1986 book by Anthony Horowitz (creator of the Alex Rider series amongst many others), this lively stage show follows the adventures of inept private investigator Tim Diamond (Matt Jopling) and his smart 13-year-old sibling Nick (Sian Eleanor Green) as they attempt to crack a case involving a box of Maltesers left in their care by a diminutive Mexican who is then murdered in his hotel room.

Matt Jopling and Sian Eleanor Green in The Falcon’s Malteser (Photo: Geraint Lewis)

As they get closer to the heart of the mystery, the Diamond Brothers meet an array of  eccentric and dangerous characters, all of them played with energetic exuberance by Fergus Leathem and Samantha Sutherland.

Amid the foreign accents and frantic costume changes, there are some brilliant songs: my particular favourite being one set to the funky bass line of Sugar Hill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight. Genius.

It seems mean not to mention that Jopling – who plays the aforementioned bass line -later performs an Elvis-style number on a guitar while in handcuffs. Now that’s even more genius.

Fergus Leathem, Matt Jopling, Sian Eleanor Green and Samantha Sutherland in The Falcon’s Malteser (Photo: Geraint Lewis)

Jopling and Green are immensely likeable as the crime-busting duo, while Leathem and Sutherland brilliantly bring to life the long list of supporting characters that includes Johnny Naples, The Fat Man, Lauren Bacardi and hitman Himmell (who owns a gun called Gott).

Directed by Lee Lyford, this pun-packed play’s 80 minutes flies by and leaves you wanting more. It’s another hit from Horowitz.

The Falcon’s Malteser is at The Vaults, near London’s Waterloo Station, until 25 August






3 Billion Seconds – The Vaults

The next stop for this theatre blog takes me underground to a cavernous theatre space beneath Waterloo Station.

The 3 Billion Seconds in the title of Maud Dromgoole’s wonderfully dark but funny play refer to the estimated lifespan of a baby born in the present day.

“We are a plague on Earth!” population activists Daisy (Rhiannon Neads) and Michael (Tayla Kovacevic Ebong) inform us in the opening line, as trains rumble ominously overhead.

Over the next hour we become intimately acquainted with this likeable (and occasionally irritating) couple who spout copious stats about how humans are wrecking the planet and go into great detail about growing their own veg.

What they don’t want is a baby to make things worse for the world. So you can guess what happens when Daisy gets pregnant.

Actually, you can’t. Because what’s brilliant about Dromgoole’s play is how cleverly she moves the story in a direction you least expect. No spoilers – but it involves a pie chart.

Neads and Ebong are impressive as the oddball pair in this two-hander, which also requires them to slip in and out of other characters and convey a wide range of emotions.

Oh, there’s also an excellent vasectomy joke.

I’ll be seeing Dromgoole’s Mary’s Babies at Jermyn Street Theatre later this month. Can’t wait.

3 Billion Seconds is on at the Vault Festival until 10 March.