As the autumn chill creeps ever closer, it’s the perfect time for a good, old fashioned story. Edwardian classic, The Railway Children fits the bill as a cosy and upbeat production to welcome in the long evenings ahead. Dave Simpson’s lively adaptation brings a new energy to the familiar tale. That of three bourgeois children, swapping their London townhouse for the Yorkshire dales. Bobby, Peter and Phyllis soon realise that life at Three Chimneys Cottage is far more exciting than they’d ever imagined. Under the watchful eye of Perks, the local railway station becomes their new playground, the vast steam engines bringing adventure, new friends and the promise of reunion.
The Railway Children fits the bill as a cosy and upbeat production to welcome in the long evenings ahead.
Just as E. Nesbitt’s novel was written specifically for children, this is very much a kid’s show, but adults will enjoy the nostalgia trip. Directed by Paul Jepson, the plot is rapid and the tone hyperbolic; ideal for keeping youngster’s attention. Station master Perks also acts as narrator, bringing some reflective ambience to the piece. Stewart Right plays the iconic Yorkshireman with a jolly benevolence, successfully pulling the show’s many subplots together. A character sadly absent from Lionel Jeffries’ film is that of Perk’s son, John, played by Callum Goulden. The cocky Yorkshire lad educates the Railway children in the local customs and adds context to the narrative.
As one of Ambassador Theatre Group’s touring productions, the set is kept relatively simple. Designed by Timothy Bird, a set of track levers, a wooden bench and some semaphore signals locate the play firmly on the railway platform. However a few props and bits of stage scenery niftily transport the action to cottage kitchens or green hillsides. Excellent use is also made of a giant projector screen, adding some cinematic notes with steam trains whizzing past and different backdrops.
The eponymous trio are well cast and create an engaging sibling dynamic. Phyllis who has always been my favourite, is belligerent and melodramatic, played with foot stamping tenacity by Katherine Carlton. Vinay Lad is mischievous and eager to prove his manhood as Peter and the two make a waggish double act. This bounces off the stoic Bobby incredibly well, highlighting the fourteen year old’s wisdom beyond her years. Millie Turner is likeable in the role, playing Bobby as determined with the urgent reactions of one on the brink of adulthood.
For an evening of escapism and family fun, a trip to the Railway Children is right on track.
First published as a novel in 1906, the story has lost none of its charm. The antiquated “jolly hockey sticks” ebulliency make it both uplifting and sentimental. Although subtle, the themes of separation and displacement add depth to the production, which is well portrayed by Joy Brook as Mother. As pieces of family theatre go, this show has mass appeal. As well as being entertaining, the peals of train whistles and cascades of smoke are so wonderfully evocative of a bygone age, where good triumphs over evil and tea is served at 5 o’clock. For an evening of escapism and family fun, a trip to the Railway Children is right on track.