All aboard for a tale on the right tracks!

An in­no­va­tive pro­duc­tion of The Rail­way Chil­dren brings child­hood mem­o­ries flood­ing back for AN­NETTE LORD

Macclesfield Express - - TRAVEL -

ONE of the many great things about a visit to Lon­don is the al­most end­less va­ri­ety of stage shows on of­fer. But which one to choose?

De­spite hav­ing no chil­dren in tow, I was tempted onto a train at Manch­ester Pic­cadilly bound for Eus­ton to see a highly un­usual pro­duc­tion en­joy­ing its sec­ond run in the cap­i­tal.

Men­tion The Rail­way Chil­dren and of course I think of Jenny Agut­ter and Bernard Crib­bins. But fast for­ward from my child­hood mem­o­ries of Christ­mas TV re­runs of the 1970 film and I’m en­ter­ing a 1,000-seater tem­po­rary theatre at the back of King’s Cross sta­tion.

To some that may not sound very promis­ing, but I was in search of some­thing dif­fer­ent to the glitzy theatre shows of the West End and cu­ri­ous how Edith Nes­bit’s fa­mous novel could be adapted for the stage.

And we had been promised a steam en­gine – a live work­ing loco – to boot!

Bare floor­boards in the foyer gave way to an­other un­usual set-up as we en­tered the theatre it­self.

The seat­ing - in two blocks fac­ing in­wards, sep­a­rated by the rail track and rail­way sta­tion set - clev­erly made the au­di­ence part of plat­forms one and two.

We set­tled into comfy seats in the third row of plat­form two and took in the scenery – a Victorian rail­way-is­sue cast iron bridge at one end and old suit­cases care­fully ar­ranged in small piles on the plat­forms.

This spar­tan sim­plic­ity helped make the per­for­mance it­self seem de­cep­tively easy.

As in the book and film ver­sions, the three chil­dren were the cen­tral char­ac­ters - but this time Bob­bie, Peter and Phyl­lis also nar­rated, in­tro­duc­ing sec­tions of the story as if look­ing back at their own pasts.

Stage sec­tions were rolled up and down the line as an in­ge­nious way to bridge both plat­forms for the non-rail­way scenes and we had to use our imag­i­na­tions to fill in the de­tail when a black cloth tun­nel was used to rep­re­sent the rail­way one. But that was part of the fun.

I al­ways thought the film ver­sion was quite light-hearted con­sid­er­ing the sub­ject mat­ter, but this stage show has darker el­e­ments while still re­main­ing child-friendly.

Peter is caught steal­ing coal by Mr Perks and the sta­tion porter’s re­ac­tion when the chil­dren get do­na­tions of gifts from around the vil­lage for his fam­ily is an un­com­fort­able mo­ment.

But, of course, their brav­ery in stop­ping the train ahead of the land­slide and res­cu­ing in­jured pa­per-chaser Jim from the tun­nel wins the day as they wait for their fa­ther’s re­turn.

In­evitably, the live steam loco was what many peo­ple had come to see and left young­sters in the au­di­ence wide-eyed.

But this unique fea­ture took noth­ing away from the ac­tors them­selves.

A pared-back set in a tem­po­rary theatre it may be, but for me, it is a per­for­mance li­able to linger long in the mem­ory.

Blink­ing back out into the light, it was time for some re­fresh­ment and we didn’t have to go far.

Across the road from King’s Cross Theatre is a new de­vel­op­ment, where 67 acres of dis­used in­dus­trial land is be­ing trans­formed into a res­i­den­tial area with public squares, restau­rants and bars.

Blessed with sun and blue skies, we en­joyed rustic pizza and home­made soft drinks in one of the restau­rants that have taken over the ground floor of a re­fur­bished Victorian ware­house.

Then it was time to see what Lon­don had to sur­prise us.

I was with a na­tive South African who had never been to Lon­don be­fore, so we had pre-booked a hop-on­hop-off tour bus to give us a gen­eral overview, as well as stop­ping at some of the main tourist sites such as the Houses of Par­lia­ment, Tower of Lon­don, Trafal­gar Square and Buck­ing­ham Palace.

With a two-days-forthe-price-of-one deal, they also gave us a free one-way boat ride on the Thames, af­ter which we drank Pimms on a moored boat bar.

Then to our ho­tel, the St Pan­cras Re­nais­sance on Eus­ton Road, link­ing to St Pan­cras Sta­tion. This build­ing was orig­i­nally a grand ho­tel for the wealthy, built at great ex­pense by the Mid­land Rail­way in the 1870s and saved from de­mo­li­tion in the 1960s.

Now brought back to life as a lux­ury five-star stop-over, its Victorian Gothic op­u­lence mixes with 21st cen­tury fea­tures.

The old book­ing of­fice has been con­verted into a bar and restau­rant, pro­vid­ing a fit­ting end to our rail­way-themed ex­cur­sion.

Jo­han Pers­son

The Rail­way Chil­dren at King’s Cross Theatre

Matt Jes­sup as Peter, So­phie Ablett as Bob­bie and Beth Lilly as Phyl­lis in The Rail­way Chil­dren at King’s Cross Theatre

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