Considering the potential of the material the actual realisation is disappointingly sterile. The opening section comes close to formulaic. The narrator bangs a drum to get our attention (that quickly gets annoying) and encourages us to have regard to the elements such as fire and water that led to the deaths of the would-be heroes. He introduces us to the rest of the cast who identify their characters by recounting the actions they performed and miming the outcomes.
This countdown through the fallen gets a bit monotonous and you start to long for a bit of variety. Yet when this comes, it feels too much like an attempt at novelty for the sake of it. The story of a heroic policeman who died rescuing a family from a burning building is told in a rather silly song that seems a strange way of acknowledging sacrifice. It is never clear if the play is celebrating the heroism of these people, mourning their loss to the world or drawing attention to the ridiculousness of the situation.
Directors Gary Winters and Gregg Whelan have the cast adopt a stylised method of acting emphasising that, whilst commendable, this type of action seems almost contrary to our nature. Unfortunately this approach makes it hard to become emotionally engaged. It also reduces the contribution that the cast can make to the play as they function more as parts of a uniform group rather than recognisable individuals.
The directors do, however, maintain interest by using a range of techniques including mime and dance and occasionally pull the various elements together into a satisfying whole. An actor struggling through various obstacles to attempt a rescue at one corner of the stage only to have to turn around to another and start over again illustrates the impossibility of trying to rescue everyone.
Daniel Hit by a Train is a confusing play. It tackles an emotional and deeply moving theme but does so in such a stylised manner as to limit the involvement of the audience leaving us observers rather than participants.
- Dave Cunningham