By Sarah Cope
What to do with an unused Eurostar terminal? Perhaps the far from obvious answer is to stage a version of E.S. Nesbitt’s children’s classic, The Railway Children, complete with a real steam train.
After walking through the rather airless and abandoned terminal, complete with closed-down shops, stained carpets, and cockroach traps, the audience is ushered into a sectioned-off part of the track, where banks of seating rise either side (platform 1 and platform 2, of course).
It’s a clever idea, but will the play live up to both the aggressive marketing and also the 1970s film version, always a stalwart feature of the Christmas television schedule?
There were some curious casting decisions – young adults play the children, and they tell the story in the past tense, almost taking for granted that the audience is already au fait with the plot.
There were a surprising amount of laughs to be had – good one-liners such as “We saved lives with our underwear” after the children wave their red flannel petticoats in order to avert a certain rail catastrophe.
Also rather knowing was the way in which the actors alluded to the restrictions of the staging – the scene in the tunnel, rather wonderfully done with black netting and effective lighting, was preceded by the warning, “Now for this part you’ll all have to use your imaginations.”
The steam train makes two (rather slow and perhaps slightly anticlimactic) appearances, including in the last scene, where the eldest daughter, Bobbie, is reunited with her father. This is the infamous scene from the film, guaranteed to get
audiences blubbering in unison. There were plenty of tears and sniffling sounds in the auditorium at that point, so it must have passed the tissue test.
It’s a shame that ticket prices are so steep – £20 to £45 – with no reductions for children’s tickets, means only rich children will be going to see this play about poor children, which is somewhat of an unfortunate irony.
The show is now running, with online booking.