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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Train Driver
Hampstead Theatre     Autumn 2010

At a point before the beginning of Athol Fugard's new play a black South African woman carrying a baby deliberately stepped in front of a moving train. The play is about the driver of that train, traumatised by being made an unwilling collaborator in her suicide.

Unfortunately the play tells us almost all it has to say in the first ten minutes -and it does tell us, the man narrating his story and describing his feelings in an almost unbroken monologue to the gravedigger at the Potters Field where the woman is buried.

There's very little forward movement in the play, except in the man's thinking, as he goes from anger to the recognition that after death there's not much difference between blacks and whites and to the realisation that the woman's life must have been totally without hope and the discovery that the more he empathises with her the less angry he is.

It's difficult to believe that that's a major set of revelations, even for South Africa, and so the psychological journey may not seem worth the effort.

In a programme interview Fugard suggests that the play is a metaphor for the journey of white South Africa in the recent past, from treating blacks as invisible, to being angry at their calling attention to themselves, to an understanding and acceptance of shared humanity.

But the play is too fragile to carry such a heavy metaphoric load, and its power must lie in our caring for the painful experience of the individual man.

And you may well think that he deserves more than some brotherhood-of-man clichés for his efforts, especially when Fugard tacks on a darkly ironic final plot twist that makes it all essentially pointless.

This should not detract from the performance of Sean Taylor who, directed by the playwright, does everything possible to make us believe in and care about the driver's pain and his struggle to find a way to closure. Own Sejake brings an understated warmth and dignity to the almost silent role of the gravedigger.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of The Train Driver - Hampstead Theatre 2010

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