Review: 31 Hours
Image: W14 Productions
Abdul Salis - John
James Wallwork - Ste
Salvatore D'Aquilla - Neil
Jack Sunderland - Doug
What happens when you have to clean up the worst day of someone else's life?
John, Doug, Ste, and Neil work on the railways.
They won't sell you a ticket and they don't drive a train.
Every 31 hours someone takes their own life on the railways in the U.K rail network.
It is ten times more likely to be a man.
"100 years ago the biggest killer of young men was war, now they kill themselves."
31 Hours is the story of four men who clean up the aftermath of rail suicides.
It is about the slippery reality of mental health and the inability to communicate issues.
Kieran Knowles skilfully interweaves the story of the men who clean up after incidents with those who are driven to take such desperate measures.
It is an analysis of the choice and an exploration of the consequences.
Filled with humour and humanity it explores four men's inability to talk about their emotions and the consequence of their silence.
Those of us living in London are accustomed to regular platform announcements about delays on the tube or rail network because of euphemistically described 'incidents' further down the line, usually prompting unsympathetic moans of exasperation from frustrated travellers trying to get to urgent appointments, home to their loved ones or even make curtain-up at a theatre.
For the travelling public, it largely means blaming the train operators for the delays.
But, as likely as not, when you hear the word 'incident' used, it means someone has died by throwing themselves in front of a train.
It's not a matter merely isolated in the capital, of course, because these 'incidents' happen right across the nation's rail network.
As the title of Kieran Knowles' absorbing play indicates via its title, suicides occur on our railways at the rate of one every 31 hours - it's a bleak and shocking statistic.
And that, of course, is merely one method that thousands of our fellow citizens choose to end their lives each year.
What's even worse is that the figure doesn't include those who have considered or planned to jump under a train but have been prevented through interventions - for example, people talking to an individual behaving oddly or suspiciously on the edge of a platform.
Cast of 31 hours - Photo by Lidia Crisafulli
Mr Knowles' play examines these harsh and painful statistics through the 'specialist cleaning team' who have to tidy-up after these tragic events.
A cast of four, all clad in the immediately recognisable high-visibility clothing of those who have to work near or on our railway lines, not only inform us of the excruciatingly gory details about their work, but also the characters involved in these 'incidents' and the motivations behind their actions.
Those motivations cover all manner of overwhelming pressures including rampant debt, family breakdowns, impending prosecution for criminal acts - the list goes on and on.
The team has names for the different ways railway suicides are effected - jumpers, bouncers, wingers, poppers and the like - they seem almost affectionate terms, but not when we hear the gory results.
31 hours certainly covers a staggering amount of subject territory - statistics, motivations, consequences, costs etc - in a relatively small amount of time.
All that information is necessary if we're going to understand the complexity of this issue - one which is getting progressively worse.
That mass of detail can be difficult for audiences to take in and absorb - always a danger with this kind of work, though I don't think the wealth of material here significantly impinges on the overall significance of this important, well-considered and sensitive piece.
It certainly doesn't paper over any cracks and doesn't pull punches but it does, in spite of its informational thoroughness, leave us wondering just what we as individuals can do, or what society as a whole must do to prevent suicides, even if it does leave us craving immediate and effective action.
As with many other multi-faceted issues, there are no easy answers of course, because we need to convince people - especially men - to change the way they think about their feelings and problems, and to seek help.
But there's a wider context too, especially the way that we all, often casually and thoughtlessly, use words in everyday speech.
As Salvatore D'Aquilla's Neil shows, in a well-articulated and particularly moving scene, phrases like "Man up" can leave people bewildered and distraught when their inner feelings are driving them to react in a very different way.
Flawlessly performed, 31 hours is a riveting, well-crafted and hugely informative play, teeming with powerful imagery about a heartbreaking issue that, if nothing else, demands that we care.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for The Bunker
Our show listing for 31 Hours
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