Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Railway Children review Waterloo Station - kids will love this one

Photo by markhillary

The Railway Children
Waterloo Station
Waterloo Road
London UK SE1 8SW
Book your tickets
When the new King's Cross St Pancras International railway station was unveiled in November 2007, much attention was given to a giant bronze statue under the station clock on the train platform. Paul Day's sculpture, The Meeting Place shows a larger than life couple embracing passionately presumably meeting after one alighted from the train that had just pulled into the station.

There is always this romance about train travel in the way that it is intriguing watching the world go past in the comfort of your cabin as your train chugs along. As the train passes flat plains and tunnels through mountains, you know that your destination lies right ahead. And very possibly someone is actually waiting for you right there.

"...the train arrival felt
as real as those on
the adjacent platforms
at Waterloo Station."
For some, the train ride is an adventure in itself; it is fast enough to thrill yet slow enough to marvel at the passing scenery. As a kid, I would pester my parents to bring me to the cafeteria cabin where we would stay put practically for the entire journey much to my delight. Nothing beats nursing a hot milo over a wafer biscuit while the train chugs on.

In many ways, The Railway Children, now playing at Waterloo Station itself, seeks to emulate the same feeling. For one, the entire theatre is built into the railway station itself - right on the railway tracks on one end of the station. That is of course, to facilitate the main star of the show, a Stirling Single - a 60 tonne steam locomotive.

Before they head into the theatre proper, audience are caution against going onto the 'wooden train platform' and you can see why. The audience is seating mere feet away on either side from the train platform and jumping on it looks rather tantalising. I have been to theatres where the stage is uncomfortably close to the audience (Dogmar Theatre being one) and actors sometime have to read their lines facing the 'invisible fourth wall' across where the audience who can literally feel them breathing. It can be quite awkward at times. The Railway Children's cast solve this by acknowledging the audience right from the onset; they walk along the platform and even jumped right off it to chat with the audience. That is how I realised that the family seating next to me hailed from Wales. I couldn't help but noticed that there were quite a number of young children among the audience. Small wonder really; the promise of a real life train pulling into does hold great appeal.

While most scenes were based along the railway, those weren't were played out on movable platforms along the same track. When the Sterling engine did eventually chugged in at the end of the first half, it did so with gusto. But my favorite scene wasn't that though, it was the scene where Roberta (Bobbie), Peter and Phyllis trudged into the tunnel and ended up saving the grandson of the 'Old Gentleman'. When the 'train' supposedly rush through the tunnel, it felt as real as could be, a harrowing experience indeed. There was a small exhibition just through the main entrance. You might wish to turn up a bit earlier to go through the exhibits, which include a detailed Hornby railway setup.

The Railway Children is currently doing a rerun at Waterloo Station due to popular demand. And it is a treat both for children as well as those who loves the original 1970 film. For those of us who were sitting by the track that afternoon, the train arrival felt as real as those on the adjacent platforms at Waterloo Station. Book your tickets now.

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