The Railway Children (*****)
Eden Court Theatre, Inverness
In an increasingly cynical world, the story that we intrude on at Eden Court on Tuesday evening is of an increasing rarity.
For all of its subtle little nods towards class and privilege, the aching heartbreak of loneliness and the terror of false imprisonment, E. Nesbit’s classic children’s story The Railway Children has always ultimately been a story of joyful sincerity – a tale in which everybody is really of a very jolly decent sort who will help anybody out at the drop of a hat.
It’s a product of its time – a very Edwardian tone of pure unbridled optimism that is tricky to get right in a world where every action is picked apart for traces of irony and self-service.
But on the stage, the Railway Children – adapted here for the stage by Dave Simpson – has kept the original tale’s charm and joyful verve throughout the eponymous tykes’ many adventures in and around the Three Chimneys cottage.
Said adventures are tied together with the cunning use of Mr Perks – the somewhat-gruff but loveable station porter pulls double-duty as the narrator of the tale, and it’s a clever way to bridge the gaps between moments in the show that E. Nesbit’s florid prose ably managed in the book.
The cast, too, do their part to bring E. Nesbit’s Edwardian sensibilities to life. Everybody is playing a big brash stereotype perfect for family entertainment.
The mother and children who make the Three Chimneys cottage their home are all the epitome of “pawsh” English types – all clipped vowels and Received Pronunciations – while the villagers they come across in the Yorkshire dales are all such salt-of-the-earth “ee, by gum lads, ta-rah” sorts that they put the Dingles from Emmerdale to shame.
Hearing the contrast sounded out in the respective dialects only helps the production though. It not only places the family as completely out of their comfort zone, but it builds the Railway Children’s big theme, a message that has remained just as important as it was when the book was first written – people are people, and should be treated decently.
Every character in this production lives up to that ideal – whether it’s the mother taking in the sick and injured through their stay, the village coming together to celebrate an unsung hero’s birthday, or – in this story’s most famous moment, brought vividly to life with the innovative use of a backing projection screen – Bobbie risking her life to stop a train from crashing into a rockslide.
It’s these little snapshots of basic goodness that gives the Railway Children its magic. In today’s world where there’s a sense that people are increasingly insular and always striving towards some purpose, some destination, the story – and this production – reminds us that sometimes it’s nice to be nice to each other as a community. After all, the journey is just as important as the destination.
The Railway Children continues through until Sunday. For tickets: www.eden-court.co.uk