Theatre Review: THE RAILWAY CHILDREN – The Lowry, Salford

Stewart Wright as Mr Perks in THE RAILWAY CHILDREN Photo Credit: Mark Dawson Photography

THE RAILWAY CHILDREN remains undoubtedly charming and heart-warming despite its technical difficulties

112 years after it was first published, THE RAILWAY CHILDREN is brought to life once again in a new stage production directed by Paul Jepson.

Based on the classic 1906 novel by Edith Nesbit, THE RAILWAY CHILDREN tells the story of three siblings – Roberta, Peter and Phyllis – whose lives are turned upside down then their father is falsely accused and imprisoned for selling state secrets to the Russians. Forced to leave the comforts of their privileged London home, the family relocate to Yorkshire and become friendly with Mr Perks, the local station porter and an ‘old gentleman’ who regularly takes the 10:15 train and eventually helps to prove their father’s innocence.

As a fan of the 1970 film starring Jenny Agutter and Bernard Cribbins, I was intrigued to see how Jepson and his creative team dealt with the technical challenges of transferring this classic story from page to stage. While this touring production does not boast a real steam train as in the recent production at London’s King’s Cross Theatre, for the most part, the team do a decent job of maintaining the visual wow factor. Timothy Bird’s captivating backdrops, video projections and rolling stock set-pieces bring to life key memorable moments – such as the red petticoat flags and the game of Paper Chase – cleverly on stage, while ingenious use of props help to move the action between scenes.

Millie Turner as Roberta in THE RAILWAY CHILDREN Photo Credit: Mark Dawson Photography

Shame then that the opening night at The Lowry was fraught with technical difficulties and a late start. Issues with the lighting resulted in most of the characters being left in the dark during the first act and a mistake with a visual prop (the banner in which the children hold up for the ‘old gentleman’ to see) caused a bit of confusion to the storyline.

Despite this, the cast held it together well with Millie Turner, Katherine Carlton and Vinay Lad boasting strong performances as Roberta, Phyllis and Peter. Turner in particular stands out as Roberta, delivering the perfect mix of childish enthusiasm and thoughtful maturity while Stewart Wright also shines as station master Mr Perks, delivering a warm and endearing performance, as well as the narration for the piece.

Yet while Dave Simpson’s adaptation remains faithful to the original story, some of the scenes go on for a little too-long and the narrative could do with a trim, especially for production primarily aimed at children. The famous ending in which the children are reunited with their father also felt pared down, rushed and somewhat abrupt when it finally did arrive.

That said, THE RAILWAY CHILDREN remains an undoubtedly charming and heart-warming story and fans of the novel are sure to enjoy this new stage production.

3 out of 5 stars

THE RAILWAY CHILDREN runs at The Lowry until 30 July