BWW Review: THE RAILWAY CHILDREN, Richmond Theatre

BWW Review: THE RAILWAY CHILDREN, Richmond Theatre

BWW Review: THE RAILWAY CHILDREN, Richmond Theatre

The Railway Children holds a special place in Britain's heart; E Nesbit's well-loved tale was first published in 1905, but most of us know it from Lionel Jeffries' iconic 1970 film, which also made a star of the teenage Jenny Agutter. This new production, faithfully adapted by Dave Simpson, has given a wider national audience the chance to see this classic tale brought to the stage.

In reduced circumstances, Roberta, Phyllis and Peter are forced to move to the Yorkshire countryside with their mother after their father leaves mysteriously. In this delicate coming-of-age tale, the children must face the challenges of adapting to a new home, but also confront the realities of poverty, politics and friendship.

Stewart Wright takes on the role of Station Master Perks, who deftly also acts as the narrator. He is gentle and radiates warmth and awkwardness at gestures of kindness. Taking on the role so closely associated with the legendary Bernard Cribbins in the film is not easy, but Wright makes the part his own.

Callum Goulden is also great as Perks' son John. His Yorkshire accent occasionally drifts across the Peninnes, but he is bubbly and bounces amiably around the stage.

There is always a delicate balance for adult actors playing the characters of children. In this production, Millie Turner is excellent as Roberta, or Bobbie. She achieves a good mix of earnest goodwill and the desire to be as helpful as possible, without slipping into overt piety.

Katherine Carlton as Phyllis and Vinay Lad as Peter are less successful. They achieve very good physical realism as bickering siblings, but both lack likability. Carlton in particular spends most of the show with a screwed up, angry face and has a voice that often becomes shrill.

This is an authentic representation of the story and all the key moments remain. The main issue with the production is balance; some of the smaller scenes are dwelt on for too long, while others feel rushed. For example; the section where Perks is outraged at the presents given to him for his birthday seems interminable. In contrast, the important and dramatic scene where the children rescue one of the 'paper chasers' from the tunnel is over in a flash.

One huge challenge in this production is to represent the station and the moving trains. The story has come to the stage before, in the Olivier-Award winning adaptation by Daniel Cruden, performed at various stations with a real steam train. Here there is no real steam train, but Timothy Bird's set design is simply lovely, with multiple layers and clever use of video footage projected onto a backdrop to show trains coming in and out of the station.

Less successful is the use of tiny moving models of trains and people woven into the backdrop. These models stutter and judder, which is possibly meant to be quirky and charming, but simply looks amateur in comparison to the high impact of the projections.

Overall the production is warmly nostalgic and authentic. It looks wonderful and is a cozy and comfortable trip to the past, which children will love, even if their parents lose a little of the magic.

The Railway Children is at Richmond Theatre until 3 September

Photo Credit: Mark Dawson Photography

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From This Author Aliya Al-Hassan

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