Edith Nesbit’s 1905 tale is as quintessentially British as strawberries and cream and cucumber sandwiches. The subject of four television series, a feature film, a made for TV movie and a radio dramatisation, The Railway Children lives long in the hearts of the nation. That, and the seemingly endless appetite for nostalgia is doubtless the reason why it is currently touring the country.
Dave Simpson’s family-friendly adaptation is faithful to Nesbit’s original. Three affluent children whose father has left, (it transpires that he works for the foreign office and has been imprisoned, suspected of spying) move to Three Chimneys, a cottage in a small Yorkshire village next to a railway, and to impoverishment. The children befriend, then enlist the help of an ‘old gentleman’ to help prove their father’s innocence.
Fans of the piece will be glad to know that all the story’s famous moments are here, the red petticoat scene, the game of Paper Chase and the famous reunion. However, key scenes seem rushed and there’s unnecessary time spent on extraneous detail.
Timothy Bird’s set design manages to overcome the potential technical challenges, bathed in sepia tones, and looking like a scene from a picture book, it is staged cleverly and with imagination. The use of projections allows the trickier effects to be realised.
Firstly, it must be said that the ‘children’ are played by adults. Millie Turner as eldest child Roberta is a perfect mix of childish naivety and earnestness, deftly portraying her blossoming maturity. Katherine Carlton shows spirit and provides the moments of humour as middle child Phyllis and Vinay Lad’s character Peter, underdeveloped in the first act, livens up, as does the action, as the piece progresses. Stewart Wright as station master Perks (the backbone of the tale) provides the narration.
It’s largely undemanding and while it all bobs along very nicely and is undoubtedly hugely charming, some scenes are over-long for a production aimed at children. There’s a degree of unnecessary padding and the saccharine sweet dialogue is a tad too twee at times for modern ears. That said, it looks beautiful and it remains as heart-warming as it has always been, touchingly sentimental, it harks back to a gentler era and is a welcome escape from the harsh realities of the world outside the theatre doors.
Runs until Sunday 9 July 2017 | Image: Mark Dawson
This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub