Writer: E Nesbit
Adaption: Mike Kenny
Director: Mark Babych
Period brown suitcases and wooden pallets, used as multi-purpose props, adorn the set on the thrust open space of The Heron. Usually played in traverse, this is a bold and interesting choice for the season and indeed for Hull Truck. After the recent productions at The Kings Cross Theatre and The Railway Museum in York, Truck certainly have big shoes to fill. A fixed set featuring two small revolves is the centrepiece for the action. And, given the space and scale this stripped-back production means well and one finds it almost impossible not to connect with this classic story which, above all else has a very big heart.
Originally written as a magazine series before being published as a book The Railway Children has taken on many adaptations in film, television and on stage. The story concerns a well-to-do family who are forced out of their London home after their father is wrongly imprisoned for treason. Forced to move to an alien city in Yorkshire, three children set out to make their own entertainment with frequent visits to the railway station.
Set at the start of the 20th century this is essentially a story about class and espionage – a point that is somewhat lacking in this particular offering. The three children (beautifully played by Gina Jamieson, David Fallon and Robyn Mcintyre) mean well but, try as they might mischief and calamity ensues.
This is a weak adaptation full of missed opportunities. It cuts corners and any real sense of pace and character development is lost. However, one cannot help but feel a certain warmth to the playfulness of the piece, perhaps given that Christmas is just around the corner. The narrative fluently flips between dialogue and direct address as the players tear down the fourth wall, playing the whole thing out front. The three main protagonists, are playful and adventuresome and there are moments of inventive play between them. Quintessentially British and with bags of energy they help carry the plot forward and are immediately likeable; endearing and full of heart. Transitions into scenes lack any real imagination and the songs, though sung well and in harmony, are weak and forgettable.
After a rather tenuous act one closer the second half gathers more momentum and artistic license allows the audience to use their imagination. There is even some audience participation. This uneven production may be just the tonic to get you into the Christmas spirit and, despite its flaws this critic could not bring himself to dislike it.
Runs until 2nd January 2022