Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings


Ros Davies as Mother, Chloe Delpino as Roberta, Molly Scott as Peter and Phoebe O'Reilly as Phyllis. Pictures: Dan Beaton

The Railway Children

Hall Green Little Theatre


Edith Nesbitt’s Edwardian children’s classic novel is perhaps best known by the 1970 film which starred Jenny Agutter, Sally Thomsett and Bernard Cribbins, a film with the rare distinction of a 100 per cent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The film was true to Nesbit’s 1905 novel and this adaptation by Dave Simpson follows the same path, or perhaps that should be track, but that makes it a difficult play to stage, even for professional companies, so Hall Green have done a fine job in keeping the flow going without a break.

The production problem is that the narrative is episodic, its roots being in the original serialisation in The London Magazine, the episodes then being published as a novel the same year. So, as each episode had to have interest and cliff hangers to grip people and entice them to buy the next edition of the magazine, it involved plenty of scenes and parallel stories, which is easy for filmmakers who are happy with short takes, but much harder on stage.

Hall Green’s solution is to have minimal scenery, a few chairs and a table appearing stage right for Three Chimneys Cottage, a roll on bed for invalids, and front stage left a points lever operated by the station porter Mr Perks as he acts as a Greek chorus to let the audience know what is going on, a few words filling in to move the story on.

Centre stage we have the station, the fields, the railway track and even the famous tunnel, scene of the dramatic rescue – whatever the narrative calls for, with imagination providing the rest.

The story is simple, a family arrive from London to a country backwater, Dorridge given the honour in this production. They were a comfortable middle-class family in London, but the father has gone away, and we have to wait for well into the second act to find out why.

With father gone the family have fallen on hard times which is why they have ended up in a candlelit, run down cottage in the backwater of Dorridge, living on the breadline, a line where the children can have bread with butter or bread with jam, the budget not stretching to both,


Benjamin Hurd-Greenhall changing the points as Perks

Ros Davies gives a splendid performance as mother, an optimist who assures her three children all will be right, she is a writer with celebrations whenever she sells an article, which is hardly a daily or even weekly event.

Chloe Delpino is a confident Roberta, the eldest daughter, taking charge of the stage whenever she appears. She likes to be called Bobbie and is the most mature of the trio of children coming to terms with their reduced circumstances.

Phoebe O’Reilly is the younger sister, Phyllis, a bit of a worrier, more insular and wary of the local Dorridge children and their country ways. She struggles the most at the family’s loss of status, while Molly Scott is the male of the family, Peter, the middle child, who, in the way of boys, clashes with locals, particularly Connor O’Malley’s Alfred Perks, boys of a similar age, as the family find their feet.

Alfred’s father, just Mr Perks, we never find his first name, is brought to life by Benjamin Hurd-Greenhall who make him not just a friend to the newcomers but also the audience, he not so much breaks the fourth wall as demolishes it.

His eldest son John played in a cheery style by Ayla Hussain, is set to follow his father into the railways when he leaves school. John is the leader of the Perk’s children and over time forms a close bond with Roberta.

With the two families introduced we come across the other characters. There is The Old Gentleman, played by an avuncular Jon Richardson, who travels on the same train to London each day. The trio of  railway children have taken to waving to him, and he waves back and even appears in Dorridge after the children ask him for help when their mother is ill with flu.


Jon Richardson as The Old Gentleman with Mother, Pyllis, Peter and Roberta

Then there is Mr Szczepansky, thrown off a train because he has no ticket – and a shortage of vowels but we will let that pass. As he speaks . . . whatever language it is it’s foreign, and no one speaks it, so there is a fair bit of confusion until Peter, with his smattering of Francais, finds he can speak French and luckily, mother speaks fluent French and so we discover Mr Szczepansky, played with both Slavic and Gallic flair by Richard Woodward, is an exiled Russian writer searching for his wife and children who came to England.

Malnourished and exhausted he is taken in by mother, but luckily The Old Gentleman can help him in his quest and they leave together which is just as well as Jim, played by Thomas John-Harris Khan, the grandson of The Old Gentleman, suffers a broken leg in the railway tunnel and is rescued by Bobbie, John and the gang, and is carried home to end up in mother’s recently vacated spare bed.

All of which is giving work for Dr Forrest, played by Shaun Dodd, who seems to have more patients in mother’s cottage than in the rest of Dorridge – and in these pre-NHS days, and mother being church mouse poor, he will be on the breadline himself at this rate.

People who know the film will know the dramatic scene when the trio and the Perk’s children save a train from what would have been a major disaster and stopping a speeding train at night by standing on the track waving a white petticoat is not the easiest thing to stage realistically even with masses of computers and CGI.

train wreck

Hall Green had none of that electronic wizardry to play with, but they still managed it quite brilliantly (above) with simple and oh so effective stagecraft. Logic told you there was no speeding train coming down the centre of the stage, but the tension and drama was there just the same. A superb piece of theatre.

There is good support from a 20 strong cast with the children, all ten of them, acting like, well, children – which sounds simple but it is not easy to make it all look natural and they managed it well.

The story is more a period piece these days, we don’t have porters any more for example, but despite its age it stands up well and still has a family friendly story to tell. We even have social comment with Mr Perks arguing with his wife, played by Beth Flint, when he thinks the trio of railway children are patronising him by arriving with a mountain of birthday presents – a misunderstanding with a happy ending.

Then there is mother, mortified that her children have been begging for supplies when she was ill. Poverty comes with its own form of pride.

The costumes team have done a splendid job with elegant Edwardian clothes while Roy Palmer’s design is a masterpiece in brevity, simple, effective and, despite the large number of scenes, allows for pause free transitions which provides excellent continuity.

Palmer, who also directed along with Daniel Robert Beaton, also designed lighting, along with Tal Bainbridge, which helped in scene changing, breaking the stage up into distinct areas to keep things moving along.

The result is a most enjoyable family show which keeps up a good pace, and, without giving too much away, has a happy ending, several of them in fact. To 27-05-23.

Roger Clarke


Hall Green Little Theatre

Home Reviews A-Z Reviews by affiliate