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Review of The Railway Children at the Looking Glass Theatre, Northampton

I suppose it shouldn't have been a surprise that The Railway Children from Looking Glass Theatre was an awfully old fashioned and really rather quaint show. I know that at some point in the dim distant past I saw the original film version (all Jenny Agutter and "Daddy" etc), as I think definitely every one of my age will have seen that. However, the fact that of the audience, staggeringly only three were children suggests a little to me that the audience was either family and friends of the performers, or older people reminiscing over the story they remember from their younger days.

I have to confess that I didn't remember much of the story ahead of seeing it, however, this adaptation from James Smith (who also directs) based on the Edith Nesbit original brings the story and characters to life in a compact seventy-minute version. As has been common from recent years, the cast is formed from recent graduates of University of Northampton BA Actors course, all familiar to me (with one exception of Natalie Částka as Mother). This, of course, means that the whole cast is generally the same age, so challenges them from the outset to portray the multitude of characters age ranges.

As the children, and wonderfully likeable each of them, is Jenny Watson as Bobbie, Penelope May as Phyllis and Connor McAvoy as Peter. Their skills learnt on the course are well used and they create believable younger representatives of themselves. Jenny especially creates the role made famous on screen by Agutter her own and adds a surprising amount of character that at culmination reminds you that the story is quite an emotional one really.

The other end of the scale and tasked with the older roles are Natalie Částka and Hans Oldham. Hans is especially good in his multiple older roles. His Old Gentlemen turn was, in particular, a great little creation, full of the love and tenderness required for such a lovely old chap willing to help all.

Completing the cast and very much in his element of clowning is Lewis Hodson. There is no point in often pretending to be something else as a performer perhaps and Lewis has clearly found his niche, and I can't help but think it will in time take him far. Right from long before the play begins, he is pointlessly doing his station portering job through the church and adding crazy climbing antics into the bargain. Later as the "Russian" he continues to add silliness (coupled with crazy wig) into the piece. Playful, amusing and just plain daft, he is once again great.

The set from Paul Beasley is a typical touring one and more than adequately does the job, even if it at times shows is ricketiness when the cast is moving full sprint. That coupled with some nice music from Ian Riley makes a nicely pleasing, if simplistic play, very well performed. It will be quite fascinating to see if the much bigger budget version heading to Royal & Derngate later this year offers the same amount of charm.

½


Performance reviewed: Saturday 31st December, 2016 (matinee) at St. Peters Church, Looking Glass Theatre, Northampton.

Details of Looking Glass Theatre can be found on their website at http://www.lookingglasstheatre.co.uk/

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