Theatre Review: ‘The Railway Children’ (King’s Cross Theatre, 2016)

Live Broadcast from the King’s Cross Theatre, London on the 28th March 2016

Review by Miriam Atkinson

This Easter Monday provided a rare treat as The National Railway Museum and York Theatre Royal’s adaptation of Edith Nesbit’s classic children’s novel The Railway Children was broadcast live to cinemas around the country from the King’s Cross Theatre in London. It was an enjoyable family event that introduced a new generation to the story.

Straight away I knew that this play was going to offer something special and unique with one of the most ingenious stage and set designs I have ever seen. The audience sits to the left and right of the long stage, with the middle length of the room as the performance area, and cutting right through the centre of the room are full-sized train tracks. Throughout the play movable platforms were carefully pushed along the tracks and these were usually used to represent the rooms of a cottage or parts of the train station. They also provided the actors with a way a crossing from one side of this unusual stage to the other. These platforms were most effective when single characters joined or left the main group already on stage. It allowed a character to glide dramatically into a scene or depart mysteriously away into the fog. But the true highlight and purpose of the train tracks came at the climax of the first act when a real steam engine and carriage emerged from the darkness into the centre of the room. Even from my cinema seat it was a wonderful moment and I can only imagine how exciting it must have been for the theatre audience.

Image from culturewhisper.com

Taking a story set in the countryside and putting it on a stage that is committed to the train station theme (no matter how pivotal to the plot) was always going to have its limitations. Yet fortunately this was a problem the creative team foresaw and adapted the script accordingly. Most of the play sees main characters Roberta, Peter, and Phyllis talking directly to the audience as they recount their younger years as the Railway Children. In a scene which involves running up and over a hill, the characters joke with the audience and ask them to use their imaginations. This direct interaction between the characters and the audience provided the play with a good balance between the dramas of the story and the lighter comedic moments between the siblings.

Image from londontheatredirect.com / Main characters Roberta, Peter & Phyllis

The Railway Children is a story I grew up with and it was wonderful to see a new yet faithful adaptation of the original tale. The cast and crew did an excellent job in taking a story that first appeared in 1906 and making it exciting and accessible to a modern-day audience.

*This review was originally published in the online magazine Cuckoo Review in April 2016*

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