It is now 40 years since Jenny Agutter waved her red bloomers on screen to stop a rail disaster. As well as the classic film, Edith Nesbit’s novel has been immortalised on TV and stage but now we get offered the stage musical version of The Railway Children.
It seems a natural choice, Nesbit’s tale of a bygone age fitting well in musical form. It’s a departure from traditional panto fare this time of year for Felixstowe Musical Theatre but a departure that works well. There is enough feelgood spirit here to warm even a sub-Arctic Felixstowe evening,
Julian Woolford and Richard John’s musical adaptation runs the full spectrum of musical genres from upbeat dance numbers to genuinely moving arias but it is perhaps in those solo moments that the score works its best, although the rousing anthemic One Voice stirs many a tear.
The story is of course well known, a mother and her three children are forced from London to the countryside while Father is imprisoned on espionage charges. The children soon take refuge in the workings of the railway and its community. It is a rich vein of characters for a stage show and with a large cast of over 40, a vein that Felixstowe Musical Theatre makes full use of.
However, despite the large company, at its heart The Railway Children focuses on the relationship between a Mother and her three children. It is here that we also find the strongest performances of the evening. Jacki Williamson as the heartbroken mother sings with real emotion and power while Harriet Bacon as eldest daughter Bobby throws off any comparison with Ms Agutter with a note perfect performance that belies her young age. There are also strong performances from Nathan Howland and Ellena Bacon as Peter and Phyllis, the other two Railway Children.
Staging is kept simple to allow scenes to move swiftly between London, the countryside and of course the railway and yes, a steam train does make its entrance for the crucial climax of Act One.
There are a couple of moments that could do with some work to tighten up proceedings. The pivotal landslide caused a few unintentional giggles, while at times the orchestra seems to be steaming ahead of the company, but hopefully these slight niggles will be ironed out during the run.
A stage musical of The Railway Children may seem a strange choice for a Christmas show, but this heart-warming and exuberant look at the very best of human spirit couldn’t be more apt at this time of year. Despite the cold, here is a show to warm the heart and by the emotional climax defies even the most frozen eye to shed a tear.