Mike Kenny’s Olivier Award-winning stage adaptation of E Nesbit’s novel the Railway Children has made a spectacular return to its original home.
The 2015 show has seen it not only reunited with the National Railway Museum in York, where it originated in 2008, but also the purpose-built 1,000-seat Signal Box Theatre which delighted Canadian audiences in 2011.
But the show-stopping development for this latest production, directed by York Theatre Royal’s artistic director Damian Cruden, is the introduction of Great Western Pannier Tank No 5775, which famously featured in the original film and has been specially painted to match its celluloid fame.
The Pannier Tank makes two breathtaking entrances on to the stage to add real impact to the emotional story which is thrilling audiences in its opening week.
Since the first sell-out run in York, the stage show has toured around the world to huge critical acclaim and has now reached a new milestone in the seven-year partnership between the NRM and the Theatre Royal.
The production forms part of the theatre’s residency at the museum during the £4.1million redevelopment of the country’s oldest theatre outside of London and follows on from a previous production, Fog and Falling Snow.
Nesbit’s novel of a father torn from his family by a miscarriage of justice and the children’s solace found in the railway near their new Yorkshire home, is regarded as a young person’s classic.
But this production, where cast interact with audience, equally embraces adults and could bring a tear to even the most hardened, especially the famous final scene: “Daddy, my daddy!”
A strong cast bring forth feelings of joy to despair and back again as the three children make friends in their new home.
Martin Barrass, familiar to York Theatre Royal pantomime audiences, makes the character of Mr Perks his own in a return to the role he held in 2009 and was previously made famous by Bernard Cribbins in the film.
Barrass is a delight to watch as the station master who becomes a strong family friend.
Actor Berwick Kaler, world famous for playing the York Theatre’s pantomime dame each year, was to have played the Old Gentleman, but a back injury stopped him and saw Michael Lambourne urgently called in just before the opening night.
And Lambourne, who starred as the Weasel in the Theatre Royal’s production of Wind in the Willows last summer, did not disappoint as the kindly “old man” who waves to the children daily from a carriage of the train.
Moving platforms, the sights and sounds of railway and especially the engine, make this the kind of ground-breaking theatre which engages with all ages and walks of life through all aspects of the production.
It will certainly live on in the memory long after station lights go out.
The Railway Children will run until September 5. Tickets are available via the York Theatre Royal Box Office on 01904 623568, or online at tickets.yorktheatreroyal.co.uk/.
by Janet Harrison