Straight Line Crazy by David Hare. The Bridge Theatre, Potters Field Park, London SE1. 5***** to 18 June 2022.. William Russell..

Just why one should care about Robert Moses, the town planner who built huge swathes of New York’s road system over a period of forty odd years during the reign of some 18 presidents is difficult to decide – except that all cities, and London is no exception, know what planners can do and how districts once lived in by ordinary people can become deserts for the very rich. David Hare is on top form in this magnificent play as is Ralph Fiennes as Moses, a man who bulldozes his way to getting what he wants regardless. The play focuses on two parts of his long career, the first 1926 when he was intent on creating a highway linking the city with the beaches of Long Island so that the “people” could get to the seaside, until then the playground of the Vanderbilts and the Whitneys, although the “people£ he wanted were car owners which ruled out an awful lot of citizens. He made the bridges along the route too low for buses. In other words no coloureds. It was done as part of some magnificently staged wheeling and dealing with Governor Smith, a terrific Danny Webb, and if slums were demolished that was fine, and those who lived there had to be grateful for the remote from where they worked places they were sent to. Act two deals with his plan to construct a sunken highway through Washington Square in 1955 to complete what he saw as his road network and keep the traffic flowing. This time he has to deal with the not in our backyard residents of the area, middle class, artistic, cultured who successfully defeated him although, as the play notes, in time the area changed anyway and now is home to the truly rich. Fiennes is astonishing, a bulky, bulldog of a man who ignores all opposition – but Hare has given him worthy opponents, Governor Smith was no pushover and in the second act we get the opposition expressed by his own long serving staff who eventually end up sacked. It is a challenging evening. Moses wasn’t always wrong. His obsession with straight roads and the motor car belongs to the past. Things are done differently now, but communities still get dumped where the planners think they should be not where they want to be.

Ariel Porter: Samuel Barnett.
Marsha Heller: Alisha Bailey.
Stamford Fergus: David Bromley.
Sandy McQuade: Al Coppola.
Finnuala Connell: Siobhan Cullen.
Robert Moses: Ralph Fiennes.
Ian Kirkby: Lewis Mason.
Shirley Hays: Alissa Maria.
Carol Amis: Dani Moseley.
Henry Vanderbilt: Guy Paul.
Jane Jacobs: Helen Schlesinger.
Nicole Savage: Mary Sillwagon Stewart.
Al Smith: Danny Webb.

Director: Nicholas Hytner.
Designer: Bob Crowley.
Lighting Designer: Jessica Han Yun.
Sound Designer: Guy Dennis.
Composer: George Fenton.
Production Photographs: Manuel Harlan

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