The second screening in the Peter Terson “The Artisan Playwright” season at the BFI Southbank again teamed a BBC play with one from Granada Television.
In 1969 The Wednesday Play made a return with ‘The Last Train Through the Harecastle Tunnel’, a quirky piece about a trainspotter (Richard O’Callaghan) who encounters lots of oddball eccentrics during his weekend. While one his work colleagues muse about painting his house near the golf club, and another plans a dirty weekend, young Fowler simply looks forward to riding the old ‘Knotty’ line through the about to be decommissioned Harecastle Tunnel. To him the railways are a place of dreams and adventure, obvious from his enthusiasm when discussing points and railway sleepers with a suburban new money couple (Victor Platt and Noel Dyson), his delight in trying on the old railwayman’s uniform (a lovely performance from Joe Gladwin, better known perhaps as Wally Batty in ‘Last of the Summer Wine’), or his afternoon operating the replica signals in Judge Grayson’s dysfunctional house (a scene-stealing performance from the peerless John Le Mesurier). Finally this journey leads him to the house of a concert violinist with a potentially dark secret (Emmerdale Farm’s Toke Townley).
This play might be a little hard to swallow (so many eccentrics in one place, including Army personnel and a sadly stereotypical gay cruiser, not to mention Le Mesurier’s weird daughter, played by Angela Pleasence, but it is very tightly written and rather charming, catching perfectly the mood that brings railway enthusiasts together. The most curious thing about this play is the director – Alan Clarke, now best known for productions like The Firm, and Scum.
The second play showing was ‘Lost Yer Tongue’, from 1975. With a largely unknown cast headed by Ronald Herdman, Bobby Pattinson, Lizzie McKenzie, and Deirdre Costello, this is a sharp look at working class millionaires and father and son relationships, and despite the rather dark subject matter it treats the subject with humour and very well-written characters and plot. It couldn’t be more different than ‘Harecastle’ in its mood, but it is equally excellent, as we watch everything slipping away from Bernie, the man who thought he had made it big and had nothing to lose. In fact he loses everything he holds dear and realises the amount of subterfuge that has been going on behind his back with the best intentions by those who care about him. Directed by Mike Newell, who has made a big success in international cinema.