When half the drama of a production is provided by the breathtaking set and innovative use of space, as it is in Damian Cruden's revival of The Railway Children, the actors might be expected to sigh in relief at having their burden lifted somewhat. When the audience is already gasping in wonderment at the fabulous set, it is a lot easier to keep the magic alive when the curtain lifts.
My ticket read Platform 2. Having traipsed through the dead space of the former Eurostar terminal, via stationary escalators and stock-still travelators, past retired baggage sorters above which the soiled glass of the once-magnificent concourse gleamed, we entered a curtained space to find a parochial 19th-century railway station with banks of seats either side of the tracks.
It is no surprise that the designer, Joanna Scotcher, received an award earlier this year for her set. The detail is magnificent. The scenery floats are all on tracks, making for fluid and exciting blocking – the stage moving with the scampering feet of the actors, occasionally whizzing them or props out of sight at speed.
The playwright Mike Kenny has adapted Edith Nesbit's much-loved story of a group of children who find themselves suddenly fatherless and penniless into a memory story: the actors who play the siblings are looking back on and analysing the events which made them "the Railway Children", so the audience can forgive them for being fully grown and playing at innocence.
Roberta (Amy Noble), Peter (Tim Lewis) and Phyliss (Grace Rowe) are a loveable trio who wear the characters, so familiar from the film and book, laudably well. But the newly cast Marcus Brigstocke as Mr Perks steals the show. His gruff humour and pride was note perfect and he created a rapport with the watching children that enabled him to engineer some tricky audience participation which could have fallen dangerously flat.
When the Stirling Single train stormed onstage issuing plumes of smoke it got a round of applause despite not even having a line. There were shrieks of excitement from the stalls and the watching children were round-eyed in amazement. We barely had time to catch our breath before the story moved on to its emotional conclusion.
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