Last Sunday we went to the National Railway Museum in York – not to visit the museum, but to see the York Theatre Royal production of The Railway Children (website here). Most folks are familiar with the book, the film, the made-for-TV remake, however this is the first time I’ve seen a stage version of it and it was most enjoyable.
Firstly, it’s a new adaptation by Mike Kenny. It’s written from the point-of-view of the children narrating the story (presumably retelling as adults, although this is never really established), and features the occasional argument (“No, it happened like this…” “Perhaps you want to tell this bit…” “I’m sure that never happened…”) making it all the more fun. The children feature of course but they’re all played by adults.
This brings us onto the cast – a fabulous line-up with several familiar faces: Marshall Lancaster plays the amiable Mr Perks the stationmaster (the Bernard Cribbins role in the film), an actor who is best known as being DC Skelton in Ashes To Ashes and Life On Mars; Sarah Quintrell (Carrie & Barrie) plays Bobby; Colin Tarrant played Inspector Monroe for 12 years in The Bill… the list goes on. Of course, we turned up to see Robin Simpson – he’s Nicky’s cousin you see 😉
And then there’s the staging. The production takes place vaguely ‘in the round’ – the audience sit on either side (“Platform 1” and “Platform 2”), with a track running through the centre, across which platforms are wheeled to create several levels – the museum are also very fond of saying that it features a ‘real live steam train’, in this case an 1870 Sterling Single engine, although it makes very brief appearances. At one end of the ‘station’ is a footbridge, and at the other end a ‘tunnel’.
This makes for a fantastic experience! The acting is flawless, the are no ‘curtains’ giving the cast an opportunity to interact with the audience as they enter and exit; the staging is imaginative and even fast flashing lights make us believe an express train is passing through Howarth; the humour and seriousness of each character is perfectly timed. As a measure of how good it is, the play kept both our children transfixed for almost two and a half hours, and left tears in my eyes as the train pulled back out to leave a silhouette of Father in the steam on the platform.
If you’re at a loose end and anywhere near York, make a special trip. It’s on until 23rd August and you can book here – there’s no chance of it transferring anywhere else, it’s been specially designed. Well worth a visit, and if you don’t believe me then read some more reviews.