New Review: The Railway Children

Our culture writer takes in a classic show.

Published: May 26th 2011
in Culture » Stage

The Railway Children.

Edith Nesbit, one of the most beloved children’s authors o’er the Pond, published The Railway Children in 1906. The story has been adapted for the screen (both small and silver, respectively) a total of six times to date.


In 2008, British playwright Mike Kenny adapted a new stage version of the beloved book, directed by Damian Cruden. For the next year, it was presented by York Theatre Royal in the National Railway Museum in York, England, then transferring to Waterloo Station in London for a highly successful run.


Toronto’s production of "The Railway Children" with Damian Cruden again at the helm, marks the shows North American premiere. In preparation, the production team constructed a theatre over existing railway tracks still in use by the Toronto Railway Heritage Centre. The 1,000-seat Roundhouse Theatre, located on Bremner Blvd near the CN Tower, is essentially a massive tent designed to accommodate, amongst other things, an actual vintage locomotive complete with steam that is rolled into the space twice for climactic effect.


The staging area is a long rectangular space meant to replicate an actual platform, with the audience facing each other on opposite sides. Truth be told, the seating was somewhat to be desired, being both cramped and uncomfprtable.


"The Railway Children" is told in an episodic manner, with three adult siblings, Roberta (Natasha Greenblatt), Peter (Harry Judge), and Phyllis (Kate Bosworth) reiterating and reminiscing about a chapter in their young lives. During the Edwardian period, the family is uprooted for impecunious reasons from their comfortable London life to bucolic Yorkshire after the father is charged with espionage. The children adapt easily to their new lives, and essentially stumble haphazardly from one good deed to the next.


At times the script seems overly saccharine, but lest we forget that it is based on a children’s novel. Joanna Scotcher’s set and costume designs are beautiful, effectively establishing the ambiance; likewise with Richard G. Jones’ lighting design. However, at times the score composed by Christopher Madin, blared from the speakers, and really ought to have been toned down a tad.


In all, "The Railway Children" is thoroughly enjoyable, family-centric production, definitely worth the trip to the Roundhouse. For more information visit

Related articles: (The Railway Children, Edith Nesbit, Roadhouse Theatre)
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