The Railway Children – Review– Hull Truck Theatre
By Karl Hornsey, December 2021
Train delays may be the bane of millions of people’s lives in this country, but the late arrival of The Railway Children to Hull Truck Theatre, postponed for a year due to the pandemic, proved to be well worth the wait. The original story by E Nesbit is more than 100 years old now, but its themes of the importance of family and friends, of retaining hope through despair, of doing what’s right and of looking out for one another make this adaptation by Mike Kenny the perfect festive production for these curious times.
“Full of levity”
The story, which many people will most clearly remember from the 1970 film version, is told directly to the audience by Bobby, Peter and Phyllis (played with a delightful mix of maturity and exuberance by Gina Jamieson, David Fallon and Robyn McIntyre respectively), as they look back on a seismic year in their young lives. Their father, unbeknownst to them, has been arrested and, in falling on hard times, the family are forced to move from London to a village in West Yorkshire, where their chief source of entertainment soon becomes their regular visits to see the trains at the railway station. This decision to involve the audience so directly from the off is a masterstroke, and one on which the whole performance thrives, allowing the personalities of the three children to shine through, with wonderful performances perfectly capturing their sense of loss, which over time develops instead into a sense of adventure and of embracing their new community.
The source material offers up plenty of storylines to bring to the stage, and this is a very faithful adaptation, with the addition of several musical interludes being the major deviation. Sometimes these work well and convey the story in a way that mere dialogue couldn’t, while on other occasions they seemed superfluous. Nesbit was clearly not one to shy away from the issues she believed in, and the threads of the father’s false imprisonment and the sheltering of a dissident Russian author add a certain weight to what is otherwise a story full of levity and laughter. Guy Burgess plays his crucial character of the Old Gentleman to perfection, and Niall Costigan portrays station master Perks with just the right balance of comic moments and serious social standing.
As well as a wonderful cast, great credit goes to Ciaran Bagnall for the set design, which sees a revolving train track used to great effect, and the characters are often to be found popping up in various parts of the theatre, bringing them closer to an audience that was almost audibly willing them to succeed and for their father to return in the most touching of finales. For those wanting to get into the Christmas spirit, to rediscover a sense of what’s important in our lives, or simply to see a fine production brought to life by an equally fine cast, then catching this particular train before it departs is a must.