Dave Simpson’s stage adaptation of The Railway Children at Norwich Theatre Royal takes theatre-goers on a rather nostalgic trip. This classic tale takes on a heartwarming and surprisingly hilarious twist. Whether you’re five or a hundred and five you’re in for an absolutely fantastic evening of theatre which will put a spring in your step and smile on your face.
As the curtain rose the audience took a step back in time to Edwardian rural Yorkshire. Perks, the station master and narrator introduced us to the Waterbury family in his friendly Yorkshire accent. Bobby, Phyllis, Peter and their mother had been catapulted out of London and into impoverished rural life. As the story went on we learnt their woes and secrets and saw the children’s fascination with the railway develop. With a few exceptions, the most memorable moments from the novel remained. The red petticoat flags, the game of Paper Chase, and the famous reunion were all well executed.
I couldn’t help but fall in love with Perks (played by Stewart Wright). His charm, comedic timing and cheeky persona really made the show. As the narrator he expertly told the tale injecting it with warmth and humour. As the station master he perfectly embodied the proud and stubborn British Edwardian values. It was the sense of humour and a glint in his eyes that really brought the play alive. He mastered the art of making the audience feel part of the story with his warmth and loveable nature, too.
The relationship between the Waterbury’s further explored Edwardian family dynamics. Whilst some aspects of their life remain in the history books, the way the siblings interacted remain true to this day. The sibling love, rivalry, competitiveness and jealousy were all played out to a tee. Just when the squabbling and whining was beginning to get a little much there were moments of affection and brilliant plans that only siblings could come up with. It reminded me of my childhood relationship with my ‘annoying’ little sister!
The incredibly creative set tied together the enthralling storyline and exploration of character relationships. It looked like something from a children’s pop up book. It injected a sense of fun and whimsicality to the play, alongside that all important nostalgia. The use of lighting and projectors gave a nod to the tales previous life as a film. If, like me, you were wondering how on earth you could incorporate a steam train into a theatre, it involved a clever use of the space to create depth, a little imagination and a model railway.
The Railway Children at Norwich Theatre Royal really exceeded all expectations. I’ve never laughed or smiled that much at a play before. The performance whizzed by and it was over before I knew it! Both adults and children will adore the heart warming, uplifting and rather emotional performance. Simpson’s adaptation is a classic in it’s own right. The magic of The Railway Children is that it brings something different to each person watching. At the end of the day you can’t beat a bit of old-fashioned family fun. It should come with a warning though – you may find yourself excessively grinning and feel the urge to skip home and tell the world and their dog about how incredible this play is!