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Review: The Railway Children at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

By What's On reporter

For most people of a certain age, the Railway Children will automatically evoke images of Jenny Agutter shredding her petticoats to prevent the 11.29 coming to grief or gasping “my daddy, my daddy” on a steam-choked platform.

Decades later, the production staged at York’s National Railway Museum and then Waterloo and King’s Cross in London achieved similar success with its use of an authentic steam locomotive in a genuine station location.

So any adaptation of the most famous book of children’s writer Edith Nesbit, who died and was buried in New Romney and whose three-year sojourn near Chelsfield station in north-west Kent supposedly inspired the story, has a lot to live up to.

The Railway Children has been adapted for the stage

Wisely, the production of Exeter’s Northcott Theatre – on at the Marlowe until Saturday – avoids trying to surpass those two versions on those terms.

Blink and you might miss the two scenes that defined the film and Agutter’s career. And the Devon company brings the railway to life through a combination of grainy video projection and charmingly low-fi mechanicals entirely in keeping with the book’s Edwardian setting.

The Railway Children is written by Edith Nesbit, who spent her last years in Kent

Like Sally Thomsett in the feature film, Millie Turner (Bobbie), Katherine Carlton (Phil) and Vinay Lad (Peter) do an excellent job tricking the audience into believing they are watching gifted child actors instead of twenty-something professionals.

Neil Salvage and Callum Goulden are extremely good value as the Old Gentleman and Perks’ son (a character not in the book or the movie). But at curtain call on Tuesday, the cast justly directed the applause in the direction of understudy Mark Starr, standing in at late notice for Stewart Wright as Perks – who, as narrator as well as station guard, is the main character and engine of this production.

For tickets, call the box office on 01227 787787 or visit marlowetheatre.com

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