The Train Driver at #64 Hampstead Theatre

The Train Driver

Roelf is an unlucky train driver. He’s stricken with guilt after having run over a woman who flung herself and her child onto the tracks in front of his oncoming train. If you’ve not seen the play, I’m afraid I’ve just successfully spoilt it for you – but not much sooner than the play spoils things for itself.

The above is Roelf’s ‘secret’, and also the premise of Athol Fugard’s play. Revealed to us forthrightly at the beginning of the show by Simon, the play’s unnecessary narrator, there’s not an awful lot left to stir up our curiosity.
Simon tends and also lives in the graveyard where Roelf believes the woman’s body to be buried. When Roelf pays a visit to the stark and unsavoury cemetery, the two strike up an unlikely friendship. Told as a retrospective from Simon’s point of view, he provides us with some clunky backstory, just in case we find it difficult to work out what’s going on for ourselves.
Though both roles are sturdily played by Sean Taylor and Owen Sejake, any subtleties of character are unable to be revealed, owing to the repetitiveness of the subject matter. Roelf’s identity has been crafted out of the trauma he has experienced, and he seems more or less to have become (as well as repeatedly indulging in) his trauma. Although this is an effective evocation of his grief and mental stasis, it’s noticeably problematic when the drama itself becomes static.
Fugard shows us his cards too early on; when the rest of the hour and a half is spent looking at them, it’s not hard to grow tired.
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