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The Vintage Guide To London | February 24, 2018

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Review - The Railway Children at Waterloo Station Theatre

Waterloo Station Theatre’s adaptation of Edith Nesbit’s book The Railway Children has been an immediate success, reviving the disused Eurostar terminal at Waterloo. Rebecca McWattie reviews.

Nesbit’s book follows Bobby, Phyllis and Peter, three middle-class Edwardian children caught between childhood and the harsh realities of the adult world. One night, their father, who works for the government, is mysteriously taken away by two men. They are not to ask why but support their mother as she is forced to send the servants away and re-locate with them to Yorkshire. They are now ‘poor’ and must decide between butter or jam on their bread.

The children play on the railway, watch the trains and wave to an Old Gentleman passenger who always looks up from his newspaper to wave back . They befriend Mr Perks, the station master, and bring the community together by many acts of kindness and friendship. Their lack of adult pride means they are able to ask the Old Gentleman for help, showing how a child’s innocence and natural humanity breaks down even the most determined and ridiculous social structures.

Mike Kenny’s stage adaptation explores these themes of poverty, single parenthood, refugees and political conspiracy and proves how relevant The Railway Children is to today’s theatre goers, young or old alike.

The production, directed by Damian Cruden, makes energetic use of the Waterloo station backdrop, perfectly utilising theatrical smoke, sound effects and moving platforms to great effect. This feat would prove impossible without a stellar cast, which is not only able to deliver effortless characterization but impeccable timing – ensuring the performances were truly memorable.

Stephen Beckett brought much feeling to the roles of the doctor and father and Pandora Clifford shone as the proud, stalwart but kind Edwardian mother. David Baron deserves special mention for bringing the Old Gentleman to life so memorably, as does Amy Noble with a brilliant portrayal of Bobby. It is difficult not to well up in the final act when Bobby sees her father alight from the stream train and rushes to embrace him. The sentimentality is not overdone and is a true homage to one of the most beautiful and touching works in children’s literature.

It is no surprise this adaptation of The Railway Children was an immediate success, receiving two Laurence Olivier awards (Best Entertainment and Best Sound Design) and has been seen by over 165,000 people this year alone. Joanna Scotcher also won the ‘Best Set Designer’ award at the 2011 Whatsonstage Awards for her ingenious use of the abandoned Eurostar terminal, turning it into Waterloo Station Theatre – one of the most exciting stage venues I have seen. Incredibly atmospheric, this is live theatre at its very best – the continuous movement allowing each section of the audience to remain fully involved throughout.

Little touches such as the audience being seated on either side of the tracks on ‘platforms 1 & 2’ and the clever use of moving stages kept up momentum and interest, especially vital where a younger audience is concerned, and the suspense of seeing the billed ‘real steam train’ was almost unbearable until our first glimpse at the end of Act 1.

Don’t miss your chance to see this production – ending on 8 January 2012.
Book tickets online or in person at Waterloo Station Theatre Box Office.