The story of The Railway Children, by E. Nesbit, sees three children move to Yorkshire following the mysterious calling away of their father. They live in a cottage on the moors with their worried mother, they discover the joys of the railway and spark up an unlikely friendship with an Old Gentleman on the 9.15 to London.
With amazing ingenuity, the old Eurostar tunnels at Waterloo station have been transformed into a ‘platform’ for a new adaptation of the novel, using the tracks to create dynamic scenes with moving stages and superb effects of rushing steam trains and tunnels. With the sounds of Waterloo still around us, the story is truly brought to life and never loses touch with its heart – the magic and wonder of the trains that bring the family together. Narrated by the children, now adults, it comprises flashbacks and description without clouding them with hindsight, allowing the audience to join the children in their fun and adventure.
The cast are spectacular, maintaining a pace and enthusiasm right from the start when they wave at the audience, commenting in a slightly exasperated but excited way, “There’s a lot of waving in this play!” Amy Noble plays Roberta in a youthful, attentive way, balancing childish curiosity with the clumsy maturity that comes to teenagers. Peter, played by Tim Lewis, was every bit the naughty-but-well-meaning schoolboy, reminding us every now and then of his vulnerability in the absence of his father. Grace Rowe’s Phyllis is charming and comical, played wonderfully young but with a beautiful sincerity at points that makes this character special. Often, when a play’s focus is the children, the adult characters can appear either dull or farcical – The Railway Children does not, however, disappoint, as the children’s mother (Pandora Clifford) is just as emotionally captivating as the three younger cast members. Similarly, Perks, played by Marcus Brigstocke, is a warm-hearted conductor the adults in the audience learn to love as much as the children.
Damien Cruden’s direction takes this story on a journey that is charismatic and enchanting, taking hold of both young and old imaginations. This came to its most exciting climax with the appearance of a real steam train as Roberta, Peter and Phyllis try desperately to warn of a landslide on the tracks. This addition (and clever use of the existing tracks once more), was greeted with gasps and rapturous applause from the audience, and is a credit to the creativity of the whole team of designers and writers.
I echo Matilda Henderson’s opinion of this play entirely, and would recommend it as feel-good family entertainment. Without becoming patronising or glossing over the drama of the novel, The Railway Children is unlike any show I’ve seen in London, whilst maintaining an air of traditionalism which is most definitely not in this case to its detriment. A wholly unique and innovative production, don’t miss out.