Weird, wonderful, and unexpected: 21’000 miles of rail with Hannah Butterfield.

My name is Hannah and I can’t drive. I tried, (I mean really tried) but it’s not really my forte (in that I can’t do it). For this reason, I spend an awful lot of time travelling up and down the country on trains, like many people do. Though perhaps unlike ‘many people’… I love it. I love the way time passes slightly differently when you’re in a state of flux. When you, and a carriage full of strangers are caught together with a thousand possibilities for a chance encounter. I’m not really a train enthusiast, but more of a people enthusiast.

Hannah Butterfield waiting on the platform
Hannah Butterfield waiting on the platform

21000 Miles of Rail is a one woman show that attempts to unpack the rules of talking on trains, and test the possibilities of chance encounters with a total stranger. It isn’t about one person, one story or one, one-way ticket. It’s a season pass that follows a number of people making their way somewhere. It’s some where between a musical, a theatre show and a Brief Encounter. It’s about telling the stories and confronting the morning commute with the magic surrounding travel by rail. And, the more I perform the show, the more people I meet who have some of the weirdest, wonderful, unexpected, terrifying, and hilarious anecdotes about “the time I was on the train to…”.

We’ve all got a train story!

The show was born out of a slightly unusual experiment…

I spent a ‘working day’ sitting at Leeds City Railway Station. I was witness to all sorts of things. 8 hours. 8 hours I sat. 8 hours I sat watching. 8 Hours waiting… for something to happen. I saw 23,920 (ish!) people. Saying goodbye, greeting each other. I noted some acts of kindness. And also some acts of unkindness.

I made tally charts of all kinds of things: mysterious bags, kisses, runners, people standing on the wrong side of the escalators. I drank coffee, I sketched in a notebook, I listened to music, I waited, I hid from a girl I used to know. I thought a lot about the effects of modern ticket barriers on notions of romance. The steam of the stations in the romantic goodbyes from black and white films are a world away from the awkward kisses on cheeks I saw that day!

I am a Leeds-based theatre maker and I use live music, movement and storytelling vocabularies to try to make sense of the world. My work is playful, usually participatory and always about trying to find joy in the most unexpected of places. Even perhaps, during the morning commute…!



What would happen if we decided right now, that we’ll try to do something. If we made a kind of promise…

What if we promised that next time we’re on the train, we’ll look out for some real opportunity. Like, to do something good or helpful or unexpected however small, for a stranger? And maybe if we all kept our promise we might just make some tiny shift in someone else’s life and then, they might do the same? A sort of ‘good deed train’?

Written by Hannah Butterfield

21000 Miles of Rail will be in The Studio Sat 23 July, 8pm. For tickets click here or call 0843 208 6000.