Sunday, 8 October 2017

REVIEW: 31 hours at the Bunker Theatre


31 Hours by Kieran Knowles is the type of explosive play that makes you watch your every step on the way home from the theatre, afraid something may fall on you, or you may bump into someone. It presents what theatre offers at its best: a mirror to society, making the audience dread and embrace every word that is coming. 

“Every 31 hours someone takes their own life by jumping in front of a train. They are ten times more likely to be male.” 

31 Hours is the story of four men who clean up after rail suicides. Four actors (Abdul Salis, James Wallwork, Salvatore D’Aquilla and Jack Sunderland) enter in their Network Rail orange work gear, and don’t leave the stage for about ninety minutes. They switch roles, going from the employees to the employers, family members to suicidal characters. Not only do these four workers have to face the aftermath of suicide and “incidents” every week, but the hard work they put in leaves them isolated, not willing to talk. This in turn brings its own questions about why they are doing this job at all and even what they are living for. 

Knowles’s writing is thrilling, with his characters, from the Northern part of England, speaking in short sentences. The switches between characters is often facilitated by sequences of single word successions that will make your head spin, as it does the workers’, who keep asking for air. In the midst of this heavy script, the silences are some of the most haunting moments. Indeed, we wonder whether they are the moments before the jumps. At least, when people talk, whether to each other or alone, they could still have a chance to change their minds.

The set design by Andrew D Edwards presents four upright grey stones spread around the stage consisting of white pebbles. These represent the four souls of the workers, who one could interchange. They are also “the person who made me late for work this morning”. The lighting design by Sally Ferguson especially stood out for me, switching between times and storylines, sometimes introducing us to the afterlife of the jumpers and creating dread. 

There are also some highly lit scenes that give space to humour, and thank goodness for that! The sequence where Jack Sunderland plays a social media editor tweeting her responses to the annoyance at the rail service is hilarious. Abdul Salis explaining what sushi is is another light moment in this compressing play. 

Director Abigail Graham brings warmth and humanity but also well-timed shock and discomfort to the play. The ensemble work brings multiple dimensions to the already complex writing. The four excellent actors have a wonderful chemistry, but while there is a brotherhood between them, we also sense how lonely they are. What is more, they need to deal with family at home, what it is to be a father and a man. As if they didn’t already have enough to worry about, manhood and “manning up” come into it, adding to their pressure. This theme comes up with many of the jumpers and the expectations they think the world has of them.

This is a very important play that has been supported by the Campaign Against Living Miserably, CALM. It shines a light on a group of workers that, although they wear orange, can be ignored by many passersby. These types of plays are essential in putting ignored parts of working society in the centre. 

Review by Sophie Tergeist 

Rating: ★★★★★
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