THE RAILWAY CHILDREN
at Waterloo Station
Eurostar moved to swanky new St Pancras in 2007. Since then, Waterloo commuters have grumbled about tracks and platforms left abandoned and unused.
Now E Nesbit's characters – and some lovely period rolling stock – have brought the terminal to life, recreating the sights and sounds of a very different railway.
Mike Kenny's brilliant adaptation has the three Railway Children [all adults, though there are youngsters in the cast] sharing recollections of that eventful summer when they stopped a train with petticoats, rescued a runner, succoured a Russian refugee, celebrated birthdays and saw their absent father restored to them, with the help of the Old Gentleman of the 9.15. Although the pace never flagged, full respect was paid to the original text and the political and philosophical sub-themes of the novel, and the main characters all had space to establish themselves.
In Damian Cruden's production, the shared narration [reminiscent of Nick Nick at the RSC] works wonderfully, as, more surprisingly, does this unusual found space – a length of track with platform, and audience, either side. The inspired solution is to have movable cross-pieces, on the same tracks as the locomotive, coming and going through the steam, bringing on not only passengers, but parlours, coal-heaps and much more, and taking characters off into the steamy darkness.
The "Children" brought out their characters beautifully – squabbling or scared, full of initiative and youthful enthusiasm - Amy Noble's bossy Bobby, Tim Lewis's Peter and Grace Rowe's Phyll made a fantastic family, and drew us into their world of adventures with little soliloquies and wry asides.
Perks, everyone's favourite Station Master, was played with a strong sense of Yorkshire pride and a wicked sense of humour by Mark Holgate, and Stephen Beckett managed a striking double as the wronged father and the kindly, overworked local doctor.
The children's mother, stoical and determined, bravely trying to hide her distress, was movingly played, and beautifully spoken, by Pandora Clifford.
The familiar tale seemed surprisingly intimate in this vast space, and we were often reminded that, despite the thrill of the steam engine. the smoke, the thunderous rumble in the tunnel and the rest, it is our "imaginary forces" which make the drama as powerful as it is, helped by Christopher Madin's stirring score.