The Railway Children, Waterloo Station Theatre, London
Wednesday 14 July 2010
You might wander on to Waterloo Station looking for the next train to Woking and find yourself hurtling back in time to an Edwardian country station in Yorkshire, with three children in petticoats and a tweed suit waving at an Old Gentleman on the "down" train back to the capital. And instead of boarding a modern commuter diesel, you can fantasise once more about Jenny Agutter as the teenage nearly-woman and Bernard Cribbins as the station master, stepping their way through a north-and-south class minefield in the 1970 movie.
Meanwhile, the music surges on the soundtrack, and a 66-tonne, bottle-green, gleaming locomotive, the Stirling Single, puffs magnificently into view along the abandoned Eurostar tracks.
Mike Kenny's stage adaptation gives you E Nesbit's story of a displaced suburban family finding their feet while Dad languishes in penal servitude on a trumped-up spying charge. But it's J M Barrie's Peter Pan, written two years before Nesbit's 1906 classic, that must have clinched the story.
Sarah Quintrell's eager missie Roberta is a Wendy figure and the prevention of the railway disaster, the encounter with the fugitive Russian writer, and the rescue of the injured boy in the tunnel, all smack of Neverland adventures.
You descend to the old Eurostar departure lounge, then walk up the boarding ramps to the closed-off stage area, about one hundred yards long, with the audience seated either side of the tracks. But the ghostliness of the venue is a bit depressing, enhanced on opening night by a wayward Eurostar alarm and announcement going off, and there's not really enough charm or joy in the acting to overcome this handicap. I loved William Mervyn as the Old Gent in the film; David Baron – the name Harold Pinter used as an actor – is not nearly jolly enough; but then, neither was Harold.
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