E. Nesbit’s classic story of The Railway Children is one that is thought of with great affection. It is a wonderfully traditional and uncomplicated tale and at King’s Cross in 2015 it makes for a wonderfully unique piece of theatre.
Nesbit was a pioneer in writing a story that put children as central to the plot. Set in the Victorian era, siblings Bobbie, Peter and Phyllis are forced out of their comfortable London home to rural Yorkshire after their father is falsely imprisoned. This leaves them and their mother penniless and missing their normal home comforts, with only the railway for amusement.
It would be wrong to start with anything but universal praise for the ingenious design of Joanna Scotcher’s set. Audiences are seated at either Platform 1 or 2, separated by a disused track near King’s Cross railway. Two strips of raised staging stretch across the width of seating, in the middle of which there is a movable stretch (the track) that is put to excellent use in the seamless scene changes.
The story is as enchanting as ever and stays true to the well-known 1970 film; however at times the pace slows a little and loses overall momentum, not usually a weakness to mention but with an audience of younger viewers any signs or disengagement and fidgeting are difficult to hide.
The ‘wow’ moments more than make up for these slight lapses. Anticipation builds throughout the first act as we patiently await the entrance of the steam train. The roar of the engine is breath-taking, followed by the deep vibrations that pulsate through the floor to your feet. The stage is flooded with steam as the magnificent locomotive finally comes into vision, prompting a spontaneous burst of applause.
The entire production is wonderfully authentic and immediately transported me to a simpler time. Mike Kenny has managed to write a script that is both wholesome and simultaneously sharp with a variety of mischievous one-liners that keep the adults engaged too.
Jeremy Swift as the likeable and hapless but jolly Mr Perks made many enjoyable contributions. The moment at the station when the children find a lost Russian gentleman and Peter suggests showing him his collection of foreign stamps he has with him in order to identify him, to which Perks quips to the audience, “How convenient!” is very funny.
Audience participation is minimal, although the moment where the audience are all asked to wave back at the children when the final train comes past (as, unknown to them, their father has been freed from prison) is unexpectedly moving.
Serena Manteghi’s portrayal of eldest sibling Bobbie was very consistent and she moved the story along with energy, enthusiasm and just the right amount of head-girl maturity and gravitas. She is especially whimsical and sweet in the moments with the Old Gentleman (Moray Treadwell) as the children desperately attempt to find the items needed for their mother to make a recovery from influenza.
Of course, the emotive final scene is the real test and she pulls this off flawlessly, leaving a lump in the throat. The steam, the train, the embrace “Daddy, my Daddy!” – it’s heartbreakingly delightful. One cannot wish for a better or more uplifting climax to an evening’s entertainment.
First published on AYoungerTheatre.com