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Review of The Railway Children at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

This touring production of the very classic E. Nesbit tale The Railway Children adapted by Dave Simpson and directed by Paul Jepson delivers perhaps everything that someone familiar with the original tale would desire.

Yes, in this modern age we are treated to the more flashy projection images which while a little unexciting at times (and occasionally diluted in clarity by the other stage lights) provide a pleasing background nonetheless.

This production of The Railway Children though is still very much of its time, nothing exciting really happens, other than some petticots being removed infront of a train, that we of course know is going to stop, even if we don't know the story. It's all very safe, and perhaps that is why it appears the modern audience has less interest in it judging by the shockingly small audience on opening night.

However, those not there are missing out on just a really lovely piece of gentle theatre, that while not without its faults, holds the interest of the audience throughout and leaves you just generally really happy, which is a much-needed thing in this day and age.

At its heart, of course, are the Waterbury's, a family down on its luck and with a father mysteriously away from home. Played with excellent spirit by Millie Turner (Roberta), Vinay Lad (Peter) and Katherine Carlton (Phyllis), the three children are as captivating as ever. As is the tradition with The Railway Children on stage, all the actors are of course well beyond the age they are portraying, however often you would never guess so with both youthful appearance and exuberance, the actors become kids again. All are wonderful, ho, ever my favourite of the three had to be Carlton's Phyllis, all sour-faced brilliance and truly exuding the characters grumps at generally the whole world.

Stewart Wright holds the whole piece together in an excellent way as Perks, acting as station guard
and narrator at the same time, and wields a neat way in scene changing by altering the points. As his son John, Callum Goulden is equally as childish as the Waterbury children, devilish in his antics and full of michievious fun.

The set looks lovely and in keeping with the whole atmosphere, however, there was, unfortunately, a really clumsy station platform post which simply refused to stop swinging the entire evening whenever it was visible, and sadly both irritated and distracted me more than I would have liked. Hopefully, that can be fixed promptly.

Some lovely touches of humour are put into the production with the comically tired doctor clearly stressed from making one too many trips to The Three Chimneys, via the constantly occupied sick bed. There is a lovely snippet of comedy from the gift of the pram for Mr. Perks, nicely timed, while the scenes involving both the distant train whizzing by in the background and the carriage with the passengers, including the Old Gentleman are naive in the extreme, but actually quite cute and totally in keeping with the story. Personally, I could have done without the overly dramatic music heralding the classic "Daddy, my daddy" moment, a line that is so iconic, no one wants to have it drowned out by such loud music.

The Railway Children was never going to be groundbreaking theatre, it simply didn't need to be, and while it definitely would have looked much better in the setting of the Royal, this is a classic and engaging tale that has been given a nice revival for a new generation and is unquestionably deserving of a larger audience.

A charming little production that never comes off the rails.
⭐⭐⭐½


Performance reviewed: Tuesday 19th September 2017 at the Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton.
The Railway Children runs at the Royal & Derngate until Sunday 24th September 2017 before continuing its tour.until November.

For further details visit the Royal & Derngate website at http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/


Photos: Mark Dawson

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