MIKE Kenny’s adaptation of E Nesbit’s classic story The Railway Children has been packing audiences in to railway stations, first at York and then at Waterloo and King’s Cross, since 2007 – and now it’s come to Salisbury’s intimate Studio Theatre. And it is an absolute delight.
It’s a huge risk to take a cherished film (Lionel Jeffries, Jenny Agutter et al) and impose a vibrant and modern script and approach, but it works brilliantly. Depending on the timing and delivery of the three “children”, it also calls for a director who can capture both the period feel of the story and the moods difficulties of adolescence. At the Ashley Road HQ of Studio, it has all four – Olivia Dutson, Ollie Boyle and Elodie Barber-Walkley as the children and Colin Hayman.
Most of the packed audience on the opening night were spellbound by the performances of the children, led by Olivia, who has professional training, as Bobbie and with 14-year-old Ollie as the pugnacious Peter and 12-year-old Studio debutante Elodie as Phyll. Their assured, witty, poignant and sensitive performances would be entirely believable in a major professional production, as they accelerated the story, skipping over the boring bits and painting the action in vivid colour.
Colin Hayman also designed the versatile and evocative set, encapsulating wealthy London, meagre Yorkshire and, of course, everything about trains and stations.
In case you don’t know the story, father is wrongfully accused of selling state secrets and banged up in jail. Mother sells up and moves from Mayfair to the Moors. The lovely Mr Perks and his family, a variety of servants, a lost Russian emigré and an elderly gentleman all have their parts to play, and of course it all ends happily, but not before Bobbie feels the stirrings of womanhood, Peter learns a bit about what it is to be a man and Phyll is content to be puzzled by the world.
Well done Sarah Kirkpatrick as the distraught mother, Kris Hamilton-Brain as Mr Perks, Claire Martin as the cook and all the rest of the company, proving once again that the excellent Studio Theatre has a wealth of talented members quite capable of taking on “modern” physical theatre with gusto.
The Railway Children is on until Saturday 11th December. It is well worth a journey, even through the fog.