There is more than a touch of time travel about a trip to see The Railway Children. Audiences pass through the shiny, silver, 21st century Eurostar terminal at Waterloo station to enter a past world of innocence, naivety and childhood adventure.
It is a world that is somehow comforting, like the smell of freshly baked bread or pulling on a favourite, well-worn jumper. The painted bridge spanning the railway line which dissects the re-imagined train platform on which the story is told, the guard’s cottage at the end of the platform, the white picket fence: they immediately entice everyone aboard the nostalgia train.
Leaving the 21st century behind, we enter a time when children would stand and wave at passing trains rather than throw stones at them, and when they were rewarded for standing on the line or running into a tunnel, rather than given ASBOs. Yes, this journey is nothing like the trip between London and Croydon.
E Nesbit’s tale of a family whose life is turned upside down when their father is mysteriously taken away, and who have to suddenly survive without the money and comforts they were used to, is a perennial favourite, its film adaptation ingrained in many a mind.
Here the story is told as a memory play, the three children – Bobby (Sarah Quintrell), Peter (Nicholas Bishop) and Phyllis (Louisa Klein) – sharing their recollections of this eventful episode in their lives with the audience. The actors, clearly older than their characters, still manage to imbue the children with an endearing youthfulness, Klein’s Phyllis the picture of a wide-eyed, ringlet-haired, speak-first-think-later youngest child.
Much of Nesbit’s tale is about the inability of the family to communicate: the mother not telling the children the truth about their father, the children not wanting to worry the mother with questions. While the tension is there in director Damian Cruden’s production, it focuses more on the children’s adventures. That said, the story’s famous finale is no less emotional.
I haven’t yet mentioned the performer that has received top billing in the lead up to the show’s opening, the steam train which makes an impressive entrance into the stage – if that is what you call the tracks – at a couple of key moments. It adds a quirky, gasp-inducing flourish to the piece, but, to be honest, the real enjoyment comes from a classic tale told well. Full steam ahead for fabulous family entertainment.