Theatre review: The Railway Children at King’s Cross

The Railway Children

The Railway Children - Credit: Archant

It might be one for the kids, but there’s no doubting the main spectacle of this show, says Andrew Geehan.

The Railway Children holds a nostalgic place in British hearts ever since E.Nesbit’s Edwardian children’s novel was turned into a 1970 movie.

The moment when Jenny Agutter’s Bobby waves her red petticoat to halt a train – or greets a steam-shrouded figure on a platform with the cry “my daddy” – has passed into film iconography. Following successful runs in York and at Waterloo’s empty Eurostar terminal, Mike Kenny’s faithful adaptation transfers to a purpose-built venue on a disused track at King’s Cross.

In Damien Cruden’s slick production, the audience sit on platforms either side of the track to see a showstopping 140-year-old steam engine roar into view.

Other action takes place on movable platforms along the track, as a framing device - disconcerting and not wholly convincing - allows adult actors to look back on their younger selves.

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Three privileged London siblings are uprooted and forced into poverty in rural Yorkshire when their father is wrongly arrested for espionage.

There the children befriend Jeremy Swift’s dryly humorous, bluff stationmaster Perks, and enlist the help of the ‘Old Gentleman” on the London express to help a political refugee from Tsarist Russia.

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Cruden moves briskly and professionally through their episodic adventures: rescuing an injured boy and averting the disaster of a landslide on the track - before the disappointingly underwhelming resolution of daddy’s return.

Caroline Harker does good work as the long-suffering single mother struggling to protect her children from their father’s disappearance, and Serena Manteghi is bright, confident and a tad lacking in innocence as feminist prototype Bobby. Adults hoping for deeper subtext will be disappointed, but my six-year-old was held wrapt throughout and there’s no doubting the spectacle of a real steam train is the highlight.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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