Review - The Railway Children

Tucked away at the back of Kings Cross station is the Kings Cross Theatre, a structure formed of two large tents, which house the entertaining and enthralling play The Railway Children.

Based on E. Nesbit's novel of the same name, The Railway Children is the tale of three children who move to the countryside with their mother, after their father is mysteriously taken away from them. The story is a brilliant mix of humor and heart and is certainly great fun for all the family.

The children (Bobbie, Peter and Phyllis) are played endearingly by Serena Manteghi, Jack Hardwick and Louise Calf respectively, and I found their performance as a trio to be utterly perfect. Sean Hughes was also brilliantly droll as the Stationmaster Mr Perks, and the touching bond between Perks and the children was a lovely to watch. Their scenes together were never anything less than perfectly timed and occasionally extremely moving.

I was so impressed by The Railway Children. Not only was the play great fun, the whole venue has been designed in order to immerse you in The Railway Children's world. You enter via a long tunnel-like passage, the foyer is designed to look like a large railway station waiting room. There is train memorabilia adorning the walls and the bar and sweet shop feel thoroughly period too. The Audience enter the actual auditorium via one of two doors, depending on weather they are sitting on platform 1 or platform 2, and once inside and sat down (the staging is traverse and the audience of 1000 sit on either side of a train track), steam plumes around you and a conductor informs everyone via an overhead announcement when the 'train' will be departing (i.e. the show will be beginning).

The play itself is a marvel. It captures the innocence of the three young protagonists, but doesn't shy away from the harshness and austerity that surrounded them. One particularly gutting scene, in which the children collect presents for the stationmaster's birthday, and he chastises them for highlighting his family's poverty was truly heart breaking.

But what about the train? I hear you ask. Well, truly it is as showstopping as the advertisements claim. It storms out (as quickly as a steam train can storm) at the dramatic climax of act 1, whistling and steaming like crazy. It was so unique and a real treat to see the train up close, and it definitely lived up to expectations. However, I found myself more impressed by the effects that were used to simulate trains. At several points (most memorably, one took place in a 'tunnel' which was created very simply but felt magical never the less!) a rush of smoke would zoom along the tracks, with sounds accompanying it, and it really did feel as if you were sitting on the platform as a train passed you by!

In my opinion, The Railway Children is a must see piece of family theatre. The story is engaging, the characters are endearing and the effects are exhilarating. What more could you ask for?

Verdict - 4.5 stars

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