The Railway Children review: ‘Charming escapism’ at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City

PUBLISHED: 13:22 16 December 2019 | UPDATED: 14:09 16 December 2019

Naomi Meaden as Phyllis, Oliver Hursey as Peter, and Esther Bishop as Bobbie in The Railway Children at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. Picture: John Davies.

Naomi Meaden as Phyllis, Oliver Hursey as Peter, and Esther Bishop as Bobbie in The Railway Children at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. Picture: John Davies.

John Davies

Tim Hardy reviews The Railway Children at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City.

Sophie Harris as Mother, Naomi Meaden as Phyllis, Alessia Procaccini as Maid, and Simon Parr as Father in The Railway Children at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. Picture: John Davies.Sophie Harris as Mother, Naomi Meaden as Phyllis, Alessia Procaccini as Maid, and Simon Parr as Father in The Railway Children at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. Picture: John Davies.

Charming escapism reaches new heights with this fantastic adaptation of the classic E. Nesbit children's novel, The Railway Children.

This is an unapologetically sentimental theatre experience, yet the humour peppered throughout ensures proceedings never veer into mawkishness.

Instead, we are left with an uplifting story sure to engage and delight the entire family.

When their kindly father is mysteriously and suddenly called away, a prosperous Edwardian family is forced to move to the unfamiliar north of England.

Oliver Hursey as Peter, Naomi Meaden as Phyllis, Joe Poppy as Mr Szezcpansky, Esther Bishop as Bobbie, and Rob Graham as Perks in The Railway Children at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. Picture: John Davies.Oliver Hursey as Peter, Naomi Meaden as Phyllis, Joe Poppy as Mr Szezcpansky, Esther Bishop as Bobbie, and Rob Graham as Perks in The Railway Children at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. Picture: John Davies.

Wrenched from their comfortable, middle-class existence, three siblings discover new anxieties and a fresh form of escape in the railway.

Once settled into their newfound rural life, the siblings learn the power of community as they prevent a rail disaster, rescue a distressed Russian writer and - most importantly - seek definitive answers on their father's fate and whereabouts.

So much of this play's success rests on the young shoulders portraying the three titular characters. Thankfully, they prove more than capable of the task at hand.

Esther Bishop impresses as the eldest child, Bobbie (Roberta).

Oliver Hursey as Peter, Esther Bishop as Bobbie, Naomi Meaden as Phyllis, Jane Pennett as Mrs Perks, and Rob Graham as Perks in The Railway Children at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. Picture: John Davies.Oliver Hursey as Peter, Esther Bishop as Bobbie, Naomi Meaden as Phyllis, Jane Pennett as Mrs Perks, and Rob Graham as Perks in The Railway Children at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. Picture: John Davies.

Her plight is the most affecting of the children; both her mother's closest confidant and her siblings' chief support figure, she displays consistent bravery in the face of her father's sudden disappearance.

Such a role demands a mature and controlled performance, which Bishop duly provides.

Oliver Hursey, meanwhile, provides welcome comic relief as middle child, Peter.

Hursey's Peter is wonderfully complex; simultaneously intelligent, kind, mocking and cheeky, he clearly both suffers and grows from the family's move up north.

The Railway Children can be seen at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City.The Railway Children can be seen at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City.

Finally, Naomi Meaden brings convincingly youthful energy to the role of Phyllis, the youngest sibling.

Blissfully unaware of the complexities of the family's situation, her commentary proves both innocent and devastating in equal measure.

All supporting actors, in truth, deserve praise; exceptional levels of enthusiasm and skill are on show throughout. A few, however, merit special mention.

Sophie Harris, perfectly cast as Mother, skilfully reveals occasional impatience beneath her well-honed 'Good Samaritan' exterior.

Rob Graham delights as the eminently likeable Perks, the local train porter.

In lesser hands, Perks' rejection - and subsequent acceptance - of the children's charitable birthday gifts may have descended into sappiness.

Instead, it produces arguably the most heartwarming scene of the entire play.

Simon Parr ably portrays a number of characters throughout the play. From a figure of kindness as Father to the play's comic highlight as the bumbling Superintendent, Parr approaches his plethora of roles with assurance and vigour.

Effects are, thankfully, used sparingly to ensure maximum impact. A sudden collapse of light as the children enter a railway tunnel, for example, is genuinely disarming in its unexpectedness.

An undeniable triumph, the set's exposed brickwork and muted colour palette evoke a long-departed, picturesque era.

The level of detail is stunning and ensures an unparalleled degree of immersion.

From the first line to the last, this exceptional adaptation proves a traditional, heartening family delight.

The Railway Children runs at the Barn Theatre in WGC until Saturday, December 21.

For tickets, call the box office on 01707 324300 or book online at www.barntheatre.co.uk


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