Pros: A difficult subject handled in an incredibly professional and well-thought out manner.
Cons: This play can seem a bit gorey and heartless at first glance, but stick around.
The Bunker is a wonderfully immersive underground space – perfect for 31 Hours, a surprisingly thoughtful play about railway suicides. 31 Hours introduces us to four workers in Network Rail’s cleaning operation. They are the team that come in after a railway fatality to clear the lines and get the trains running again. The subject matter does make it a hard watch, but this is an incredibly professional and well-done piece of work.
It could have been quite a crude and vulgar production, but it isn’t. The play covers a full breadth of topics around mental health, and makes for a very touching performance. At its heart, 31 Hours negotiates the difficulty men face talking about their mental health issues in the face of ‘traditional’ ideals of masculinity. It never takes away from the harsh reality and facts of men’s mental health in the United Kingdom, starting with the title. Every 31 hours someone jumps in front of a train. They are ten times more likely to be a man.
As the show picks up pace, it becomes obvious that something specifically harrowing has happened to this team on a specific date, but there are twists to be had, as we uncover the truth behind the tragic event. Where this show absolutely triumphs is with its message that this can happen to anyone, anytime, and you might not even know who is at risk.
It really isn’t a laughing matter, and although marketing materials bill it as quite a humorous performance, I was pleased to find that this is a serious production and that this difficult subject matter is handled with consideration. There are laughs to be found, but fortunately not at the expense of the main topic. Instead, the humorous bits come from the character presentation, as the actors handle a plethora of supporting characters.
The characterisation of a social media guru is very funny, and yet this is balanced out well with the tragedies brought to life in the production. This is most true in the case of the elderly couple – the depictions are sweet, and rather funny – but the story itself is heartbreaking, and that all of that comfortably fits into the same storyline is testament to this being a good play. Some of the descriptions are terribly gory, but even the way in which this is mundanely addressed by the workers adds to the bizarre normality of their job. The all male cast are excellent: Abdul Salis (wonderfully familiar from Love Actually), James Wallwork, Salvatore D’Aquilla and Jack Sunderland are perfectly cast, and each injects a great deal of personality and inner struggle into their various characters.
A wonderfully creative set is essential to understanding the perspective of the play, and this set delivers. Dusty ballast fills the stark stage, and moveable metal beams are shifted around the stage to create any manner of sets needed. Exquisite lighting creates a mix of daylight and nighttime scenes, and the roar of the train combined with this lighting will have your hair standing on end.
It’s a good production, but it’s important to note that it may be a difficult one for some to watch. The depictions of panic attacks are painfully accurate and relevant, and it’s heartbreaking to see the aftermath of a rail suicide played out on stage. What is certain is that the subject matter is genuinely important – and 31 Hours has something to say about it that is absolutely worth hearing.
Author: Kieran Knowles
Director: Abigail Graham
Producer: W14 Productions
Box Office: 020 7234 0486
Booking Link: https://www.bunkertheatre.com/whats-on/31-hours/about
Booking Until: 28 October 2017