Everywhere you look, there’s a story to be told. This is especially true of the National Railway Museum, York, which is full of incredible pieces of the country’s railway history. Since York Theatre Royal closed a few months ago to allow a large refurbishment of the venue to get underway, they’ve taken up residence at the National Railway Museum. To help you get your theatre fix, they’ll be presenting lots of exciting pieces of work. One such piece of work is In Fog and Falling Snow, a promenade hybrid written by Bridget Foreman and Mike Kenny, and directed by Damian Cruden, Juliet Forster and Katie Posner in association with Pilot Theatre Company.
In Fog and Falling Snow tells the story of York’s true railway king, George Hudson (George Costigan) who is often overlooked by George Stephenson (Ian Giles). While Stephenson is considered the father of railway travel, Hudson was crowned the ‘Railway King’ due to the large number of railway networks he controlled. We are led around the National Railway Museum, uncovering character backgrounds and bits of Victorian life that help to set the scene for the production. In the second half of the show, we’re taken into the Signal Box Theatre to watch the rest of Hudson’s story, along with those of the people loosely connected to him, such as George Jenkins (Olivia Ledden and Charlotte Wood), a young girl who posed as a boy in order to work on the trains and earn more money for her family.
The show starts off with the large theatrical image of Stephenson entering the NRM’s impressive space on top of a steam locomotive. This is a striking image, and one that I thought would set the tone for the rest of the show. I don’t think that this was the case, however, as some of the promenade vignettes that followed seemed a tad unconvincing and under-rehearsed. The stage combat in some of these scenes was very disappointing in its execution, and character motives weren’t entirely clear. Some of these scenes were energised and helped to propel us into the world of the play, but many of them lacked this energy and motivation, and some character portrayals were a little bit wooden and flat, which made it harder for me to access the world of the play.
In the second half, however, things started to pick up a bit, and the company started to really stoke the fires of the production. Many of them worked well as an ensemble and began to properly flesh out the world of the play, and there were some great theatrical images. A live choir was an interesting element of the production; they provided a unique sense of atmosphere that gradually began to permeate throughout the rest of the production to assist it in establishing a theatrical presence, although this didn’t come into full play until later on.
Costigan and Giles were excellent as Hudson and Stephenson, providing strong, well-rounded and convincing performances. It would have been nice to see some more of the play’s characters a little more developed in this way, but on the whole, most of this show is interesting and engaging. It’s an impressively large scale piece of community theatre that draws on the history of its performance space very nicely. Whilst I was disappointed with the vignettes at the start, the rest of the show grew on me, and I began to see glimmers of a unique piece of theatre that tells an interesting and epic story.
In Fog and Falling Snow is playing at the National Railway Museum until 11 July. For more information and tickets, see the York Theatre Royal website. Photo by Anthony Robling.