The Railway Children
Stephen Kingsbury and Ben Sleep
Talking Scarlet Productions
Grand Theatre, Blackpool
Productions of Edith Nesbit’s time-honoured children’s tale have been steaming into railway museums and station sidings up and down the country for several years.
So the Grand in Blackpool is hardly likely to compete with authentic backdrops like those. Instead the venue alights upon this new musical version from Stephen Kingsbury and Ben Sleep.
The duo have form in adapting other children’s favourites, such as Treasure Island or Wind in the Willows, so they know that you tinker with popular stories at your peril.
Undaunted, they have neatly turned the Edwardian morality tale into a mini opera that keeps strictly to the rails of the original story, and even manages to arrive at its terminus in around the same time as Lionel Jeffries’s 1970 film—just under two hours!
The movie version of Bobbie, Peter and Phyllis moving with their mother from London to a house near the railway in Yorkshire, after their father is imprisoned for allegedly spying, still exerts a strong pull on a generation. Whether their children and grandchildren will remain quite as transfixed with something so comfortably old-fashioned, is another matter, even though Nesbit packs a lot of adolescent ‘scrapes’ into her characters’ lives.
Talking Scarlet Productions gives it all the verve they can, even if they don’t stretch to producing a programme. So whoever plays the young trio, or the self-important railway guard, Mr Perks, will have to remain anonymous for now, despite their best efforts.
The songs push the story along well enough, even if one or two rapid-fire numbers overstay their welcome. And this company does particularly well to synchronise both pre-recorded music and digital backdrops in a way that even bigger outfits might admire.
And when Father alights from a steam train, at his happy homecoming from prison, there isn’t enough dry ice in the house!
Reviewer: David Upton