Bringing family friendly entertainment to the stage, The Railway Children is an adaptation of the classic children’s novel. Told from the children’s point of view, this play is something a little different from the normal fare at the Ottawa Little Theatre.
Should you see it?
Adapting any novel has its challenges. In the case of The Railway Children, the story is of three young siblings who learn to survive and thrive after their father is mysteriously sent away. The story that’s told on stage is a collection of the many adventures they have living by the railway station. It’s an unusual choice of plays, both because there is no singular driving story, but also because of the many scene changes that happen in order for those stories to be told.
Jim McNabb directed The Railway Children to emulate the way the children would tell the story, as he told the audience before the show. While the three main characters stay on stage telling their tale, the sets, props, and supporting cast transform the stage to fit that part of the story. Even for the Ottawa Little Theatre who consistently delivered good looking sets, this is a challenge.
What appears on stage are four large movable set pieces, and clever lighting created by Graham Price, along with a huge array of props. Costumes by Peggy Laverty were quite well done for the main characters in this show, transitioning the children from social class seamlessly on stage.
Becky Mardell is credited as set choreographer, which was impressive in it’s own right as there was almost constant movement on stage. At some points the makeshift sets were endearing, like the walking pile of coal, and others were silly, as train passengers improvised train motions like a conga line. There were several times when the sets movements were clunky and distracting. Even though the effect was quite nice overall, the noise and commotion made by the changing sets made it difficult focus on the character at hand. Often the actors voices were just drowned out.
As the three children, Katherine Norland (Roberta), Elie Dib (Peter), and Alexandria Hodgson (Phyllis) do a fantastic job carrying the show. They were energetic and conveyed the sincere innocence needed for the parts, and some well-rehearsed banter. As the Mother, Irish O’Brien is wonderful in her supporting role. Perks, the station master, is another standout played by the exuberant Barry Daley.
Overall, The Railway Children has the feel of a passion project by someone wanting to bring to life their favorite childhood novel. Although the cast was charming, I found the story wasn’t memorable. While I appreciate the play giving the audience a nod and a wink by breaking the fourth wall, it felt a little heavy handed for the production to do the same with silly staging choices.
But that’s just my opinion and I’d love to hear your thoughts. Was The Railway Children as funny and sweet as you had hoped? What was your favorite part? Did you like the sets or find them distracting? Join the discussion in the comments below.