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Sunday, 7 November 2010

The Railway Children at Waterloo Station

The Railway Children’s impressive run ends on 2 January 2011, so there is a limited time to catch this special train; I went last weekend. I have to admit I felt a bit out of place without a child on my arm as the seats were mostly occupied by eager children!

This adaptation of E Nesbit’s classic comes to London’s Waterloo from York Theatre Royal where it was originally produced at the National Railway Museum. A family story that children love, and adults remember fondly. This is a wonderful theatrical journey that excites from start to finish. I am a big fan of productions that use alternative performing spaces, and never has there been a more appropriate venue than Waterloo station for the Railway Children.

I can’t believe how much unused space there is at this important London terminus. Before you reach the seating area you walk through the station, up an escalator, and into the waiting area, where there are all the pleasantries you expect before a train journey: a sweet shop, tea and coffee stand, a gift shop, even a champagne bar (we headed over there!). Then through to Platform 1 or 2, depending on your ticket... the audience sits on both platforms either side on the old railway track.

The show features The Stirling Single, a gorgeous 66-tonne steam locomotive and the Old Gentlemans’s Saloon (from the original Railway Children film). There is nothing grandiose about the story of the Railway Children, its simple nature makes it much more engaging and believable than other more elaborate plays. We watch as the three children, Bobbie, Peter and Phyllis grow up and explore life in the country, living near a railway station.

The acting is as good as it needs to be, but not spectacular by any means. I enjoyed Louisa Clein’s performance as Phillis, an adult playing a young child must work hard on stage to have conviction, and Clein does, every detail is carefully thought through to mimic a young girl. Nicholas Bishop took on the role of Peter and created a nice dynamic with his to sisters on stage. Unfortunately something about Sarah Quintrell (who plays the oldest child Phillis) unsettled me throughout the show. Her movements are very stylised, almost dancelike, and her facial expressions are so melodramatic they look silly. She is irritating and unconvincing. Of the more mature characters David Baron as the Old Gentleman and Marshall Lancaster as Mr Perks really stand out and are a pleasure to watch.

And when the show is over, there is no tiring walk to the tube station, just hop on a train at Waterloo.

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