'Too soon' to dramatise Waterfall disaster

 Playwright Alana Valentine’s Dead Man Brake is about the Waterfall train disaster.   Picture: C.MOORE HARDY
Playwright Alana Valentine’s Dead Man Brake is about the Waterfall train disaster. Picture: C.MOORE HARDY

A play about the Waterfall train disaster has angered a survivor.

She says it is too soon to dramatise the tragedy, a work in development with Wollongong's professional theatre company Merrigong.

But Merrigong's artistic director has defended the work, saying it is important, will draw heavily on primary source material, and is supported by other people who were personally impacted by the disaster.

The female survivor, who did not want to be named, was travelling on the train with her husband on January 31, 2003, when it derailed and slammed into a cliff wall at Waterfall.

She was seriously injured; her husband one of seven killed.

She said she "was fuming" and unable to sleep after learning a play, Dead Man Brake, was in development.

"This kind of play doesn't help people," said the survivor, who lives in the Illawarra.

"All it brings is heartbreak and it dredges up things they live with every day.

"In 50 years it might be a different story. Now, it's too close to the bone."

The woman said she had previously supported the making of a documentary on the Waterfall disaster, but she did not approve of the stage work, which is tipped to use theatrical tools like dream sequences to frame the story.

Merrigong's artistic director, Simon Hinton, said the play would include such tools but was mostly verbatim theatre, with dialogue taken directly from the 9000-odd page Special Commission of Inquiry report into the tragedy.

He said the company had "every confidence" the work would be handled sensitively by Alana Valentine, an award-winning Sydney playwright who was "extremely experienced in ... utilising primary source materials and undertaking interviews in the creation of powerful theatre that draws heavily on verbatim sources".

"Throughout history, society has reflected on real-life human tragedy by telling the stories of the victims and survivors through works of art ...

"This is a fundamental human way of not only making sense of the terrible things which happen to our fellow human beings, but also of honouring their memory, or hard work, or ongoing suffering," he said.

Hinton said the company had been offered the support and assistance of people personally affected by the tragedy.


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