I loved the 1970s film as a child so the play had a lot to live up to.
The play is staged in flashback, with the grown-up children, Bobby, Phyllis and Peter reminiscing about how they became The Railway Children.
This has the advantage of allowing adult actors to play the children – and they do a good job, with Nicholas Bishop scarily childlike as Peter.
And using flashback acknowledges that most audience members will already know the ending of the story. So the focus of the play is more about how events happen (and for me, how they manage to stage them) then the end itself.
The staging was the most exciting aspect of the production. The audience were seated on two platforms on either side of the train tracks and the action took place in between.
Smoke, lighting, sound effects and moving platforms were all impressively used to create “trains” speeding along the track.
And of course, the big draw of this production is a 68-tonne steam train, the Stirling Single which chugs majestically onto the stage.
I couldn’t help comparing the play to the film, as I know it so well. So how did it measure up?
I thought the stage version captured a lot of the charm of the film but at times it was a bit too twee (too much tally-ho, “you’re a brick” type dialogue). And although it’s aimed at children, the audience don’t need to be asked to use their imagination at particular points in the play (we’re in the theatre, we’re already using it!)
I also wasn’t keen on Caroline Harker‘s portrayal of Mother. In the film, the mother was firm and “proper” but kind. The play didn’t manage any of that warmth and most of Harker’s dialogue involved her shouting at the children not to cry or ask questions.
But despite that, I really enjoyed The Railway Children. The inventive staging coupled with the unusual location make for a great night at the theatre.
If you do go, make sure you get there a few minutes early as there’s a miniature train (which children can ride in), an exhibition of photos from the film and information about The Railway Children charity in the foyer.
The Railway Children at Waterloo Station until 5 Sep 2010. Book tickets