The Railway Children

Date 18th November 2022
Society Neston Players
Venue Neston Civic Hall
Type of Production Play
Director Stuart Rathe & Ruth Stenhouse
Written By E Nesbit, adapted by Mike Kenny

Report

Author: Joe Clarke

I had the pleasure and delight to cover a production of The Railway Children for Neston Players this week at Neston Civic Hall. The Civic Hall was arranged in a traverse theatre style with a catwalk in the middle to represent the station platform and the stage used as an extra acting space. I have to say from the offset that this production was nothing short of brilliance! I adored the staging and the direction throughout, which was ‘right up my street’. This version of the E Nesbit classic was adapted by Mike Kenny, which I feel lends itself more to a modern audience and contains more humour than the original. Directed by Stuart Rathe and Ruth Stenhouse, this production was thoroughly entertaining throughout! There was a clear vision, fully dimensional characters and wonderful storytelling from everyone! I love it when the stars align once every blue moon to create a beautifully moving and entertaining piece of theatre and this was certainly one of them! I loved the modern elements throughout the directed scenes with added choral speaking, repetition, stylised moments using vocality and physicality and narration. The storytelling was very strong, especially from the main cast of the Railway Children. Every cast member had brilliant diction, articulation and projection and the direction of scenes was sympathetic to all areas of the audience, with actors moving around so that their back wasn’t to the audience for very long. I loved to look at the cast on the stage who were in character throughout, even when they were sitting waiting to perform. I also loved that they were used to create sound effects and add layers to scenes with their voices etc – wonderful!

I appreciate that staging this production can come with many headaches regarding the staging of trains, tunnels, platforms, and other locations but this was easily remedied with Stuart and Ruth’s vision which worked perfectly. I did feel that perhaps lighting could’ve been used more to aid scenes, such as dimmer lights for the tunnel scene or bright garish lighting/coloured gels or gobos for the trains etc, rather than a general white-wash. I also felt that a decision to have props or not could’ve been clearer as some props were used and some mimed throughout. Not all cast were able to sustain the accent (Yorkshire?) all the way through (I’m being really picky now). Despite this, there were so many lovely moments that I could highlight, such as the sitting on the suitcases on the train and the various characters in the chase and tunnel costumes, (amongst others).  Speaking of costumes – the costumes for everyone were excellent! All fitted perfectly, were of the time period and helped establish character. Well done to the costume team for your obvious hard work.

The sound cues and transition music was great also and helped add layers to scenes and scene changes and were wonderfully cued.

The Railway Children (Bobbie, Peter and Phyllis) were nothing short of excellent in their craft! All three had clear diction, beautiful storytelling and individual character development. I loved the command that Olivia Clark brought to Roberta (Bobbie). She commanded the stage to showcase that she was the elder of the three and has a brilliant rapport with the adults on stage. Sam Bevan had some brilliant comedy moments that worked well and played this role with vigour and verve! If I may, one of the standout performances was Grace Stanger as the tomboy Phil (Phyllis). Her stage presence, line delivery and ability to command the audience is astounding. All three had a great rapport and I never once felt uncomfortable watching three children, who commanded every scene in the play.

Mother was wonderfully played by Ticki Clark. Although she was slightly struggling vocally, this didn’t distract from character or performance. I loved all of the personal physical nuances that she brought to this character such as the way she held her form and used her hands to convey emotion. Her acting was believable and had an emotional effect on the audience - A great performance!

Father was played by Stuart Rathe, and despite only being in two scenes, he was commanding and believable. The scene when Father returned at the end of the play was highly charged and highly emotional. Stuart looked great in his costumes too which lended itself to this character.

Gordon Wallis was brilliant as the station porter Mr Perks! Gordon’s accent was great and sustained throughout. Gordon was instantly likeable as Mr Perks which is important for this character. His rapport with the audience was excellent as was his rapport with the three main characters. Wonderful!

Other notable mentions go to Martin Riley as the Old Gentleman, who looked amazing in his costume and was brilliantly cast in this role, Pam Button (Mrs Viney) who reminded me of Pam Ferris in Darling Buds of May – a typical friendly Northern matriarch, and Bethany Culshaw as Mrs Perks who was very likeable and great to watch. Another standout for me was Ina Schmidt as Mr Szezpansky. I watched Ina throughout the entire show, especially in Act one when she wasn’t being used and she sat in the chair onstage completely in character throughout. She drew me in and was wonderful in this role.

There are, of course, far too many other cast members to mention by name in this review. But please believe me that you were noticed and supported this production greatly. All were great in helping with scene changes, sound effects and adding layers to scenes and forwarding the plot. I think by now you can tell that I really liked this production! Honestly, everything just worked, gelled and you affected me emotionally – a hard task with a period piece.

I thank Neston Players for their wonderful hospitality and wish them all the very best for their next production, Witness for the Prosecution in 2023.