THE RAILWAY CHILDREN
LADS at the Tractor Shed
A S Byatt's new novel – The Children's Book – is at least partly based on the life of E Nesbit, whose best known work was lovingly brought to the Tractor Shed stage.
LADS' Railway Children, in an adaptation by Dave Simpson, was narrated by Perks [Dave Hudson], taking us all into his confidence and cementing the scenes together. This device worked well generally, although the Birthday Party lost some of its dramatic effect since the ungrateful Perks seemed to know in advance of the gifts to come.
Among the other grown-ups, Vickie Cumbers was the harassed Mother, Robin Warnes a dignified, benign Old Gentleman, and Gavin Rouse a strong presence as the Russian émigré.
Today, RP [“talking proper”] is as much a foreign tongue as the Russian, the French or the Yorkshire dialect. These languages were attempted with varying success. Lloyd Shankley, as a confident Peter, was by far the most convincing middle class Victorian. Jamie-Leigh Royan played big sister Bobby, with Rebecca Plummer spirited as Phyl.
Kristian Rawlinson was the eldest of the unruly Perks tribe; he had some nice coming-of-age moments. The Railway Children grow up too – one of the most touching scenes had Mother confiding in Roberta.
The size of the stage enabled some good pictures – John eavesdropping on Roberta, for instance – and some superb scenic effects. The station and Three Chimneys, intricate pieces, slid in on rails like the scenery in a toy theatre, and the most famous moment, involving landslide disaster averted by petticoats, was one of Latchingdon's best ever coups de théâtre, as the locomotive, with glowing red eye, advanced on us, shrouded in steam. The departing train at the start was impressive, too. But elsewhere more lighting would have enhanced the atmosphere – too often the actors were litonly by spill from the front.