The Railway Children

Date 27th October 2018
Society Encore Productions
Venue The Pyramid Theatre, Warrington
Type of Production Play
Director Josh Hankey

Report

Author: Joe Clarke

Fresh from their recent production of Footloose, Encore Productions have produced their play ‘The Railway Children’.  Set around the turn of the twentieth Century, The Railway Children focuses on the new family that move from London into the ‘Three Chimneys’, a house near the railway in Yorkshire, after their father (who works at the foreign office) is accused of spying.

The director for this play was Josh Hankey, a first-time director for Encore.  There was a lot of positives to be taken from direction.  I liked how the show looked visually.  The set, costume and props were in keeping with the time period, along with the spoken dialogue.  This production used a lot of children who were very secure in words, direction and characterisation.  It is clear that a lot of hard work has gone into the direction of the young cast and I felt totally at ease when the children were leading the action.  I appreciate that it can be very difficult to have various locations such as the station, a train, the tunnel and the Three Chimneys’ house.  This play had a static set that didn’t move.  Whilst I can understand the reasoning behind this decision, I would’ve preferred to have a set change to establish the different locations.  The station platform was used very well throughout but was used as various locations which could’ve been a little confusing to the audience.  It was also very narrow which restricted movement of the characters.  This was particularly apparent in the bedroom scene towards the end of the play when Jim was being seen to by the doctor.  I also wasn’t a fan of the tunnel and the black curtains with the white lining, however I don’t know how else it could’ve been set in that studio space.  The train scenes were pulled off very well – I actually thought it was real steam from the engine!  Overall, the pace was good, scene changes were slick, and the story was told well by most of the actors.  The audience and I enjoyed this play – the standard of the acting, from the children in particular, was excellent.  I also really enjoyed the rehearsed improvisation from the cast at the beginning of the play when the audience were taking their seats, along with the Mr Perks stamping everyone’s tickets as they arrived – a great little touch! 

Lighting was generally good.  Because of the set restrictions, I felt that the lights could’ve been used further in a more detailed way to establish the different locations E.G blue lights for the woods, red lights for the station tunnel and yellow lights for the Three Chimneys’.  This is entirely a suggestion.  The lights did not distract from the action and all lighting cues were well cued.

Sound effects were nice and used to add another layer to establish location.  The music during the opening scene was a little loud and we lost some of the dialogue.  The sound cues were stopped suddenly, rather than faded down.  This was particularly noticeable in the scene when the children were in the tunnel and the train was coming.  The train noise got louder then suddenly stopped.  I felt that it should’ve been faded down to establish that the train was passing through and going in the distance.

For a small venue, there were a lot of actors on stage and I am only going to focus on the main cast in this review.  Each character was very well dressed in their authentic costumes which helped the audience engage with the era.  The young cast of children were excellent.  I loved their characterisations and how each one had their own personality.  I liked the humour and truth that they brought to the stage and they told their story well.  I felt completely at ease during the children’s scenes and they were very well directed and rehearsed – Well done!  The adult chorus did very well also.  I particularly liked the loud, brash, Yorkshire woman who were clearly the matriarchs (Laura Cupit, Christina Wernham, Annabelle Taylor and Jane Newey).   Neil Atherton who played Mr Szczepansky was great and very believable.  I found his characterisation very believable and he was intriguing to watch.  I would’ve preferred a little more projection but overall, he did very well.  Andy McQuoid played the role of the Old Gentleman.  Andy certainly looked the part and had a great rapport with the young actors.  At times, Andy devoiced at the end of sentences which made it a little hard to hear but overall, he did well to portray this role.  Jo Preston (Doctor) was very quiet and rushed her lines.  For me, she needed much more projection and more characterisation to establish herself as the town’s doctor.

The main cast were made up of two adults and three children. 

Mr Perks (The Narrator) was brilliantly played by Seb Farrell.  I loved Seb’s version of this iconic character and I looked forward to him coming on stage each time.  Seb engaged the audience with his wit, comedy timing and lovely characterisation.  He had a great rapport with the young actors he shared the stage with and had excellent, diction, articulation and projection!  He was cast in this role very well, and for me, was the star of the piece. 

Dawn Lloyd played the role of Mother.  Dawn brought a coldness and stoic side to this character that I’ve never seen before and I’m not sure if it worked or not.  On one hand, I can see that she is trying to hold everything together whilst hiding her husband’s secret, but on the other hand I felt that she could’ve been trying to hide this fact when her children were around.  There didn’t seem to be much love between Dawn’s character and her children.  Whilst Dawn had excellent diction and articulation, Dawn needed to project a lot more as I couldn’t hear lots of her dialogue throughout.

Roberta was played by Poppy Williams.  Poppy did very well as the eldest of the children from London.  Her accent was spot on and I liked her confidence and stage presence.  Poppy had great diction and articulation and told the story well.

Peter was played by Max Greenough.  Max did very well.  He was very watchable and believable.  I liked all the subtle characterisations that he had, with Edith etc.  He too had an excellent accent and was cast very well in the role.

The youngest sister, Phyllis, was played by Charlotte Hiley.  Charlotte did well and had a nice rapport with her fellow actors.  I would’ve preferred Phyllis to be a bit more playful and obstinate to be different to her bigger sister, but this is more of an observation rather than a criticism.  Charlotte had lovely diction and articulation also but needed to project a little more.

Overall, Encore have done well to produce a full play just weeks after their full-scale production of Footloose.  The strengths of this piece were in the characterisations and the grasp of the difficult dialogue.  As I mentioned before, the children were exemplary, and it was visually very good.  Congratulations on a lovely version of this play and I cannot wait to return to see your next musical production of Wind in the Willows in April!