“Try to imagine it as an adventure, all sorts of things might happen.”
E.E. Nesbitt, The Railway Children
That The Railway Children should be brought to life anywhere other than King’s Cross seems unimaginable, but even more unimaginable is how well the space at the King’s Cross Theatre plays host to the story, over a century after its initial publication. A staple of family Christmases and sick days, the charm and nostalgia of the story come together in a truly poignant production, adapted for the stage by Mike Kenny and directed by Damian Cruden.
The stage is set from the first moment you enter the theatre, right next to King’s Cross station itself, with the foyer transported back in time to the 1900s complete with platform signs and a Victorian-style sweet shop. The audience is directed to their seats on either Platform One or Two, either side of the incredible moving stage that lines the centre of the space. From the beginning it’s a truly immersive experience, with characters in the fabulous suits, top hats and smart dresses of the period wandering the space, greeting the excited audience. The exposed workings of a functional station, as well as the dangling lightbulbs casting a dusty orange glow, make you feel you’re really part of the story – somehow it even smells like smoke and oil. King’s Cross nowadays might be all cross commuters, but the magic of the railway is very much alive here.
For those unfamiliar with the story, Bobbie, Peter and Phyllis are three siblings transposed into poverty when their father disappears. At their new home in the North, Three Chimneys, they meet all sorts of new characters and predictably get up to all sorts of hijinks, mostly centred around the railway itself. Brought energetically to life by Serena Manteghi, Jack Hardwick and Louise Calf – all adult actors playing children – their naivety and innocence mean the darker elements of the story never dull the mood. The moving parts of the stage and the actual steam engine that appears, almost a character itself, keep the thrills up even when things aren’t looking so good for the family.
Complete with engaging supporting characters and some laugh-out-loud moments, this is as impressive a way to spend an afternoon as you’ll find in London. Its underlying values of kindness to strangers could melt the heart of even the most cynical person, and, well, we all know how it ends. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
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