THE Railway Children. Along with Winnie the Pooh, Snow White and Mary Poppins, it’s almost as if their stories have been knitted in to our DNA, tales we’ve known forever.
King’s Ely Junior’s presentation of Edith Nesbit’s magical romance is zesty, joyful and beautifully achieved, right down to the puffing Green Dragon as it heads out of the gloomy tunnel towards Phyllis, madly waving her red petticoat to halt it before it destroys everything. It’s a brilliant end to a jam-packed first half. We’ll look forward to the rest of the show: the peculiar Russian dissident, the hare with the broken leg whom Bobbie needs to tend, and that reunion – Daddy, my Daddy – as Phyllis and her father are brought back together on the platform amid the departing steam and the tears of pure joy.
Adella Charlton’s directorial swansong is paced perfectly for her young cast, most of whom are even younger than the Railway Children themselves; her work allows them scope to revel in the applause of the appreciative audience and to listen for the laughs, which were many and warm. Timing is everything and nobody dropped a stitch.
As mother and father Abigail Hughes and Hugo McGuinness brought absolutely the right amount of Edwardian aloofness to their lines; indeed Abigail’s gathering of her children as they await Father’s uncertain fate is touching and visible. As Mr Szezcpansky, that Russian dissident, William Biggs was forthright and believably alien to the comfort of northern hospitality, breaking into a highly passable French tongue when necessary, a move that was noted by the audience with rightful applause.
Rhys Williams as the butler knew his station and performed with sophistication; Olivia Thomas as Mrs Perks affected a wonderfully rounded northern accent which touched us all in its ability and her performance was admirable; her children, played by Freya Moss, Malak Nasir and Isaac Beeton all knew their place and fitted themselves comfortably into their roles, as if they’d been born to them. As the doctor, Jesse Dennis knew his way around his stethoscope curiously well: his authority in the role hit exactly the right note.
Everybody’s favourite Old Gentleman was fleshed wonderfully well by Edward Spencer who had evidently learned how to do pomp and circumstance with ease and simplicity; his grandson Jim, the hare with the broken leg, threw himself into the railway tunnel with gusto and gained our sympathy right from the start. As Jim, Robbie Allan evidently enjoyed all the attention his accident was getting.
And as for Mr Perks the station master: well, Bertie Whymark allowed our hero enough space to swagger as if he owned the station at Oakworth and his knowing and canny performance was a pleasure to watch.
The evening belonged, as it should do, to the Railway Children themselves: Nicholas Denny as Peter, the boy who has to step quickly into his father’s shoes, growing up in an instant to take control when the chips are down. Isabel Duckworth as Phyllis, caring for her mother and her siblings with maturity and seniority: a subtly played part which, at that moment of triumph and reconciliation at the end of the piece as she greets her father once again, left a tear in the eye. And Eva McGrath as Bobbie: warm, outspoken and with some of the best lines of the evening, gracefully and buoyantly played by someone who knew exactly when and how to react to each and every moment.
The evening was over far too soon and the generosity of the applause showed that none had been left wanting. Not just a great effort: a great achievement of which cast, stage crew and production staff can all be rightly and justifiably proud.