The Railway Children

8 December 2017

The Railway Children

Set in and around a country railway station at the turn of the twentieth
century, the plight of the railway children grappling with their new
environment is imaginatively brought to life for a modern audience while
losing nothing of the original spirit of humour, tension, adventure and
the final triumph of good over evil.

The Railway Children Review by Noda

Society: St Peter Players
Production: The Railway Children
Date: 6 December 2019
Report By: Judith Watsham

First of all, thank you for the welcome you gave to me and my two young companions – one of whom knew the story, and had read the book, and the other did not know what it was about.  However, he was absolutely riveted and they both enjoyed it immensely as did I.

Your busy director, Ruth Corner, who also is credited with choreography and set design as well as being part of the wardrobe team, had her work cut out and is to congratulated on creating a superb production.  The set was inspired with good use of a draw cloth for the opening scene and then the use of well-designed fold out sections which gave stage manager Alan Caesar Gordon and stage hand Steve Corner the ability to progress into the multiple scenes smoothly and slickly with no delays.  You also used the two downstage areas of your apron stage to full effect, even though the result was a very cramped cottage.  I also liked the use of the hazer to indicate the arrival of trains and the tunnel worked very well, both inside and outside.

Your MD, Adrian Sutcliffe, had worked you all hard on the songs and it was sad that he had been taken ill at the last minute but his replacement on the piano, Richard Fairhead, who took over with an hour’s notice, was excellent.

Make up, no programme credit, was good, especially the character make up for the Old Gentleman, but Steve Cubbage as the doctor had rather unrealistic long dark side whiskers.  Where they joined the character’s own very short white hair they needed to match or at least blend seamlessly.

The costumes were also very good and in period.  I see from the programme that Ruth had help from Liz Peskin, Zoe Bagley and Joan Carr.  Well done those ladies!

Some props, Janeta Kling and Joan Carr, were fine with good set dressing in both the cottage and the station office as well as the luggage in the auditorium.  One very distinctive suitcase seemed to double as the Old Gentleman’s briefcase and Jim’s suitcase though – perhaps a second one would have been preferable?  The begging urchins had modern looking biscuit tins – again perhaps just holding their hands out would have worked better?  What did you use for newspapers?  None of them looked like newsprint, including the apparently blank paper where Bobby read about her father’s imprisonment.  It is possible to get hold of old papers or you can find closely printed sections which can appear to be suitably in period.  The wicker laundry basket was appropriate.

You really should check your sight lines carefully.  For a considerable amount of Act 2 there was an ankle and foot sticking out SR.  No names, but I know who was sitting in the wings with one leg crossed over the other – I recognized your skirt hem in the finale!

Les Brewer’s lighting was excellent with effective pools of light falling on the various areas as required.  Ollie Bentley’s sound was also good, especially the land slip and the trains.

Tina, you did a good job with the programme again.  A good cover design and suitable ‘railway’ shadows behind the two personnel lists.

Now to the cast.  The 3 children, Bobby, Peter and Phyllis were all brilliant but surely Peter should have stood up when Old Gentleman entered the cottage?  Children were better trained a hundred years ago!  All three of you acted and sang well and Bobby’s distress when learning about her father’s disgrace was well acted.  Also, Kiera Lane gave us a very emotional moment at the end when father returned.  The book has, of course, been filmed several times and as a result many of us are very familiar with this final tear jerking moment and you didn’t let us down.

Wide eyed young Phyllis, Jessica Sutton, was very believable at all times, especially when declaring her love for everyone!

Sam Dell as Peter provided the audience with another excellent performance, well acted and sung as always Sam.

Graham Caesar Gordon was just right as Perks, who also narrated and held the story together, and gave us another superb characterisation.

Kirstin Stansfield portrayed the children’s mother very believably, desperately trying to hold her emotions in check to keep her family on an even keel.  Very well acted and sung too.  Your facial expressions were always just right and told us, the audience, so much more than words conveyed.

Barry Dell, in multiple roles, was completely right in all of them.  A strict but loving father one minute, a somewhat haughty Lord Fleet the next, and then you came into your own as Szczepansky.  You sounded right to my ears, but, I admit, I don’t speak Russian!  Your acting was excellent, especially in the scene when the children are being presented with their awards with you in the background desperately trying to understand what is going on.  Very good acting from Mother and Steve Cubbage as the Doctor here too.

Martin Sutton as The Old Gentleman, acted well, looked and sounded just right.  I felt you were not really comfortable with your songs but, hey, we can overlook that I think as your characterisation was very good.

The role of Jim is a small part but was well acted by Sam Coles.  I particularly liked the tentative way you managed to convey a potential love interest with Bobby.

The rest of the cast, all playing more than one named role, both sang and acted well. From Tina Barclay’s gossipy postmistress delivering a telegram, Liz Peskin, who made the most of the cameo role of Mrs. Perks, Steve Element’s Engine Driver, not to mention the three Perks children, Imogen Bagley, Charlotte Walker and Matilda Patterson, who sang and moved well in Posh Talk and doubled some other smaller roles, including Sophie Patterson as Grammar School Boys engaged in a paperchase, all of you added greatly to our enjoyment.

All in all, this show was another triumph for the Players!  Well done to you all and in the meantime, I hope you all have a very happy Christmas and New Year.

Judith Watsham
Regional Rep NODA London 11 and 11A