Sometimes I write reviews of concerts and shows; sometimes I write about places to go for a day out. This post isn’t intended to be either of those, though it may look a bit like both.
Last week I fulfilled an ambition I’ve held for several years by going to see the stage version of The Railway Children. This was one of my most-loved books as a child (and that of my sister too), and the 1970 film is undoubtedly one of my all-time favourites.
I’d heard a lot about the stage production – but would it live up to the book and film? The answer is a resounding “yes”. It was wonderful.
The play is staged at a purpose-built temporary theatre behind London’s King’s Cross station. Incidentally, it’s worth allowing some time in your itinerary to explore this area; it has been vastly improved over the last few years. Smart restaurants and wine bars have replaced the seedy buildings, and the area around the canal basin has been transformed to a delightful piazza, complete with dancing fountains and grass terraces on the banks of the canal.
The theatre foyer has been made to look like a 1920s railway station – dim lighting, rough wooden floor, grubby windows, piles of luggage, railway posters, notices painted in a railway-type script. The auditorium is also based on a railway station; the seating is on the platforms and the play is performed on and around the line between them – not so much “theatre in the round” as “theatre in the long”!
Trolleys are rolled along the railway line for the actors to perform on and to effect the scene changes. This allows a poignant visual effect towards the beginning of the play as Father and children are wheeled away in different directions, and Mother is left between them.
The play takes the perspective of the children, now adults, looking back at their childhood – the “do you remember when” conversation that all adult siblings have when they get together. The script is faithful to the book (I’ve read it enough times to recognise original wording) and cleverly interweaves reported speech with live action.
The audience is included in some fourth-wall breaking lines, and encouraged to wave and cheer at appropriate points – enough audience participation to make it fun, but not so much to make it tawdry.
All the favourite scenes are there – the bucket of water; the coal mining; the Russian refugee; the hare-and-hounds race and injury; the landslip; Perks’ Birthday; etc. All cleverly presented with no scenery (apart from the tunnel, where you “have to use your imagination – really really hard”) and a minimal amount of props.
Star of the show is the full size and real-life locomotive that steams into the theatre at the end of both acts – a breathtaking event.
This truly is a play for all ages. It’s different, it’s fun, it’s entertaining – and it’s a wonderful story. And yes, the “Daddy, my Daddy” will bring a lump to your throat. Whether you’ve got children to take or not, you won’t regret a trip to see The Railway Children.
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