As I walked up the hill to Corfe Castle, a steam train chugged along the railway line behind me, and the stage was set. The Dorset countryside is almost the perfect setting for this classic, although I imagine performances in Yorkshire are pretty special too.
Edith Nesbit’s classic story The Railway Children is brought to the stage in this magical adaptation by Chapterhouse Theatre Company. The real focus is on creating a family atmosphere, and the many children in the audience lit up with glee at the music, puppets, and playful characters.
The real magic of this show comes from the moments where the children are on the little bridge depicting the railway. The steam train may be imaginary, but to the audience it seems just as real as any of the other elements of the performance. When Roberta jumps in front of the train to wave her red petticoat, there is a collective holding of breath from the audience. The simple set perfectly encompasses the railway line, the family home, and the station, all at once.
To ramp up the family feel, a fox and cat puppet join the actors to help tell the episodic stories of the railway. This is a lovely touch, and the actors do an excellent job of giving the puppets personality.
The stand out performance comes from James Elmes as Perks: funny and friendly with a rough edge, this is exactly how Perks should be, and I wish the personnel at my station were a little more like this. Lauren Falconer also does well to capture Bobbie’s mature, yet naïve character. The moment I was waiting for: “Daddy! My Daddy!” was just as heart-wrenching as I had hoped, and a poignant moment in the play. Falconer leads the three children with strength, resisting the urge to put on a child’s voice, which makes her much more believable.
At times the dialogue does become a little chaotic, with a little too much shouting and over-emphasising in some parts, when a little more light and shade could be found. That aside, the production as a whole suits the audience to a tee, offering comedy, drama, and a few songs for good measure.
After the play was over, all I really wanted to do was hop on a steam train, which goes to show that the magic really did happen.
Words by Katie Dancey