Once in a while, a theatre event comes along that, in the words of Mary Poppins, is “truly scrumptious”.
Those two words perfectly sum up the festive concoction served up by the Hull Truck Theatre, with its production of The Railway Children.
This magical experience tells the story of three quite posh children from London, who find themselves living in poverty in Yorkshire.
The children – Roberta, aka Bobby (Gina Jamieson), Phyllis (Robyn McIntyre) and Peter (David Fallon) – included us in the audience from the off, as they were the storytellers describing their own young lives.
This inclusive concept was a stroke of genius. I usually hate audience participation but, in this case, these crafty little monkeys reeled us in so cleverly, I found myself quite happily waving at an imaginary train when asked to.
Of course, this is The Railway Children, so the train couldn’t stay imaginary for ever, and (spoiler) it didn’t.
With their father (Niall Costigan) in prison on espionage charges, it’s left to their bewildered mother (Kate Hampson) to keep her brood in check.
The three children soon find adventure alongside the nearby railway and spend hours waving at passing stream trains in the hope their love will reach their father in London (where they thought he was living).
One old train traveller, in particular (Guy Burgess), waves back and he turns out to be the trio’s saviour in more ways than one. And station master, Mr Perks (a dual role for Costigan) becomes like a second father to the children; even though he has four of his own.
As the story progresses, we witness adventures galore, with Russian prison escapee, a Mr Schepansky (Daniel Reid-Walters), being given refuge by the family.
A paper chase created lots of laughter as well as a nerve-wracking moment in the train tunnel.
And the children always live in hope of seeing their father again one day.
Of course, the most memorable scene that many people will remember from The Railway Children is where a landslide occurs, threatening to derail an oncoming steam train, and the sisters take off their bright red petticoats to wave as a warning to the train’s driver.
The train stops within inches of Bobby, who promptly faints.
Up to this point, I was already hugely impressed by the stage design, which featured a circular, moving rail track surrounding the stage. We had to use our imaginations somewhat, until Bobby’s heroics heralded the arrival of a huge “train” which burst on to the stage.
I was lucky enough to watch a production of this show at The National Railway Museum, in York, in which a real steam train was used, but, quite honestly, this was the next best thing.
Dressed in wonderful costumes and possessing tuneful voices which did justice to the original music, each person on stage that night played his and her part in this remake of an old favourite.
We could clearly hear every word spoken and when words weren’t needed, facial expressions said it all, as did the joyful dancing.
I couldn’t fault a thing. And when the “snow” fell on to the talented cast at the end, it was the icing on a very tasty Hull Truck cake.
Running until Sunday, January 2nd, 2022 – times vary
Tickets cost from £10. Call (01482) 323638 or visit www.hulltruck.co.uk Check the website for show times, Livestream and On Demand dates
Reviewed by Jackie Foottit
Reviewed: 30th November 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★