Friday, June 03, 2011

The Railway Children: Theatre Review

I went to see the exceptional Mirvish production of the Railway Children at Toronto’s new Roundhouse Theatre on Bremner Blvd.

A note on the venue: couched between the numerous historical train cars decorating the lot near Steamwhistle Brewery and offering a fantastic view of the Toronto skyline: just below the CN tower. The tent constructed for this production of the London smash hit is rather unremarkable from the outside; but you enter through your platform and upon seeing the auditorium you are transplanted into a magical, mystical Edwardian world.
The staging for this production is exceptional. The lighting and costumes, the music and sound are all on par with some of the best theatrical experiences I have encountered.

The audience is seated on either side of the makeshift “tracks” and the staging utilizes this set-up to its full-potential: the climax at the end of the first act resulting in the entrance of a gorgeous reproduction of an early 19th Century train.

Because of the odd nature of the seating, I wondered about visual limitation; but there is no such thing. The actors ( who are superb, by the way, especially the three playing the children: Roberta, Phyllis and Peter) , bound about always in your sightline. The director has carefully planted the action at angles that engage the audience at all times and children, especially, immediately connected with the action they witnessed.

Yes, the entrance of the famous train was indeed the highlight of the spectacle; but I was as smitten with the lighting and sound which recreated the “feeling” of a locomotive as the eponymous Railway Children bound about the tracks. At one point, as the three sneak into a terrifying railway tunnel to rescue a young boy, the tunnel closing in ( with nothing more than a skirmish of black curtain was one of the most brilliantly rendered theatrical scenes I had seen.

The Railway Children is based on the 1906 serialized novel by E. Nesbit. It follows the adventures of the precocious Waterbury Children, exiled to a modest house known as the Three Chimneys with their mother when their well-to-do Londoner father is accused of selling secrets from the government. Told episodically (as most morality tales for young people of its age), the three meet a myriad of interesting characters: including the kind-hearted railway porter Mr. Perks, a charitable doctor, an enigmatic old gentleman they spirit down to the tracks to wave to every morning at 9:15 a.m. and a recently imprisoned Russian novelist desperate to be reunited with his wife and daughter.

I really enjoyed this production, its ambience, its setting and its narrative. The dialogue was wonderful, with the actors breaking the wall to speak directly to the audience. They almost trip over each other to break into a new narrative strain and it is absorbing, high-energy and meets the rhythm of a young child bubbling with enthusiasm at all of their minute adventures.

There is an incredible amount of heart and talent here –meted out amidst one of the cleverest set designs I have ever seen.

I highly recommend this faithful adaptation ( it is VERY like the novel; down to the dialogue) to those looking for something to do in Toronto this summer. Make sure to have a pint at Steamwhistle after--- because it is SO close!

1 comment:

Unknown said...


Now that I have THAT out of my system...this production sounds absolutely lovely. I adore the book and am happy to know that the stage presentation is so faithful to the source!