Nick Le Mesurier reviews The Railway Children, presented by Heartbreak Productions in Jephson Gardens, Leamington
Exile, imprisonment, alienation, treason. Behind the warmth that binds the Waterbury family together and that characterises Edit Nesbit’s perennial story of The Railway Children lie some darker elements. But these are not what Heartbreak’s production of the story is about.
The setting is roughly 1905. The Waterburys have moved to Three Chimneys, a cottage in Yorkshire near a railway. Trains rumble by as the family is left side-lined by the unjust imprisonment of their father on charges of spying. While they wait for justice the children, Roberta (Ashleigh Aston), Phyllis (Faye Lord) and Peter (George Naylor) take in a Russian refugee (Shaun Miller), and make friends with the station porter, Mr Perks (Shaun Miller) and his rapid-fire wife (Bryony Tebbutt) and the mysterious Old Gentleman (Shaun Miller) who takes the 9.15 every morning.
These are the days of the Edwardian summer, when the sun always shines and children play freely on the railway embankment. When a landslide threatens the safety of an oncoming train the children come to the rescue by waving their red petticoats. Later they save an injured boy, Jim, who has somehow broken his leg inside the tunnel and turns out to be the grandson of the Old Gentleman. Mother (Bryony Tebbutt) gives up her writing career to care for him, funded by the Old Gentleman, who somehow manages to prove their father’s innocence. The reunion scene on the platform has of course been made immortal in the film starring Jenny Agattur and is here faithfully rendered in all its satisfaction and relief.
This is a show full of character. Perks (Shaun Miller) is especially memorable as the grumpy old station porter with a heart of gold. Mother cares for her children as a mother hen does for her chicks, and there are plenty of references to girls being equal to boys. There are few villains, and those that are stay firmly off-stage.
“I do love a happy ending,” says Mrs Perks at the end of the show. Heartbreak show that, when it’s done well, a little of that can be a valuable tonic to the soul.
* The Railway Children is playing its final date in Jephson Gardens on Friday June 15.