Review of 'The Railway Children'

Based on both the well-known movie and book of the same name this play tells the story of three children - Bobbie (Sophie Ablett), Peter (Matt Jessup) and Phyllis (Beth Lilly). After their father leaves under mysterious circumstances the children move from London with their mother to “The Three Chimneys”, a small house a short distance from a tiny local train station in Yorkshire. They befriend the local stationmaster Mr Perks (Shaun Williamson) and spend most of their time at the station, waving to trains as they pass by. When they end up saving a train from near certain disaster their lives end up being changed forever.

The biggest thing about this show is, of course, the staging given that the the tagline is “Live at King's Cross Station with a Real Steam Train!” and, indeed, a real train is used for parts of the show which creates a real sense of a significance to the proceedings. The layout of the theatre for the show is a two long sets of bleacher-style seating (“Platform 1” and “Platform 2”) facing each other with a train track in between and a width of platform on either side for the actors. For the most part of the show there are ingenious wooden stage elements that are moved up and down the track on which scenes are played out - Often the elements move while the scenes are still going on which adds to the dynamic atmosphere. The set is quite well done with the station house at one end and a railway pedestrian bridge at the other with details such as time-specific advertising posters and architectural details. Despite the length of the stage I should think that any seat would have a good view of everything going on though our seats were midway up about halfway along - No obstructions whatsoever.

The pace is quick but at 2 and half hours (with a 20 minute interval) many small children in the audience were quite bored and I noticed several were asleep - There is simply not enough happening for the very young to be interested for very long despite the best efforts of the cast introducing themselves to people in the audience before the show and during the interval (there were also several rounds of singing “Happy Birthday”).

I thought it was very well done having adults playing their younger selves in the play which allows them to reminisce about the events as they unfold and often talk directly to the audience (though the children do make an appearance in a key powerful scene later in the play). Often the characters seemed to be yelling their lines and I mean more than what is necessary when performing in a play. Additionally, because of the large amount of space they often seemed to be talking to each other 10 or 12 feet apart which just looked unnatural and odd. Indeed, the minimalist staging of much of the show further seems to distance the actors - There never seems to be a real warmth between the characters.

Even though it is more than 100 years old the story is touching if quite light with the right amount of mystery and wonder that you can imagine children feel. This is, after all, always intended as a children's story. As an adult, I enjoyed it anyway and the train was just icing on the cake.


Review Date: 2016-01-17

King's Cross Theatre

Location: London (England)

Address: King's Cross Theatre, Goods Way, London N1C 4UR

Public Transport: TUBE Kings Cross NRLOGO Kings Cross


A temporary venue next to the train tracks of Kings Cross station. Accessed by exiting Kings Cross via the “back door” and following the pedestrianised “King's Boulevard” alongside the station until you reach “Goods Way”. Though temporary it is quite comfortable and remarkably quiet given the trains going by just meters away. The theatre has normal facilities including toilets, heating/air conditioning, and a rather large bar. The auditorium itself is within a large tented enclosure having two long stadium-style seating areas on either side of a train track.