The Railway Children/Malvern Theatres

SUPERBLY performed, a period set that oozed a late Victorian lost summer… and a plot that must have utterly mystified the younger members of the audience.

Here we have a group of children, free to roam at will and explore their imaginations. They not only befriend complete strangers but bring them home when lost or injured.

Talk about the past being a foreign country. And therein lies the flaw with this otherwise charming piece… Edith Nesbit’s story of youth and innocence, unlike those steam trains, just doesn’t travel all that well.

Today’s children live in a world of parent-structured activities when not being kept under house arrest in back gardens. So how strange and exotic this play must have seemed to the present-day youngsters on this train trip down Memory Line.

Nesbit’s children behave like miniature adults in a Secret Seven, Famous Five sort of way. They also speak with impossibly shrill, cut-glass voices, apart from village lad John (Callum Goulden) who bounces about and talks right northern like the Clitheroe Kid on amphetamines.

Mother (Joy Brook) is holding everything together while Father (Andrew Joshi) is doing bird after being fitted up on a charge of spying. It all looks very bleak until the children hook up with station master Perks (Stewart Wright) and things start to get back on track.

But you do struggle with the dialogue. Much of it sounds like a 1950s TV Oxo advert, the voices getting ever more posh and high-pitched, nearly every sentence from mum irritatingly ending in ‘daa-hh-leeng’.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that this story is cosier than an entire museum of tea cosies, it still has the power to enchant and make you long for a world that never existed in the first place, where good and justice always prevail.

The Railway Children runs until Saturday (Sunday, August 27).

John Phillpott