The only non-American play for me this week is from South Africa's best-known playwright Athol Fugard, who's also come out of retirement as a director for his latest work. Inspired by a newspaper article from December 2000, The Train Driver takes place a couple of months later. In a dangerous, desolate corner of South Africa is a graveyard for people whose identities are unknown. Tended by Simon (Owen L Sejake) the closest things to gravestones are rusted parts from an old car, and they're only there to stop him digging up graves that are already occupied. Roelf (Sean Taylor) arrives looking for one of these unknown graves, that of a woman and child. She committed suicide by stepping in front of the train he was driving and the image has been haunting him ever since. He wants to find which grave is hers and swear at it, cursing her for killing herself in a way that destroyed his own mental health in the process.
Saul Radomsky's bleak, dusty set which is on a gentle thrust into the audience¹ is an undoubted star of the production alongside the two experienced South African actors who bring their own gravitas to the roles. Mostly this is a powerful production but even at 80 minutes I felt like Fugard repeats himself quite a lot, with Roelf's revelations about how the unnamed woman's death has affected him taking too long. The passage of time is also rather vaguely conveyed and there's a very clunky ending so unfortunately this isn't going to be one that stands out for me.
The Train Driver by Athol Fugard is booking until the 4th of December at Hampstead Theatre.
¹since the two RSC shows there last year, Hampstead Theatre seems to have finally started using its auditorium's adaptable nature. Given the oft-reported problems they've had attracting audiences I think this could be one way towards getting them back, by giving the space its own identity somewhere between a traditional Proscenium Arch stage and a studio space.