SUP director Paul Green explains why he wanted to direct The Railway Children – and his vision for this immersive production
I’ve been keen to direct this particular adaptation of The Railway Children for quite some time. Let me explain why.
First, the place that its author E. Nesbit and this particular story hold in popular culture.
I read my first E. Nesbit book at the age of nine and read virtually all her books in the next three years.
They were completely different from anything I had read before. As the previous blog explained, Edith Nesbit was a genuine trailblazer for what we now recognise as ‘modern children’s literature’. The genre, as we know it today, didn’t really exist before ‘Daisy’ got cracking.
Her style, structure, her approach and the way she presented her characters led the way, and many others followed in her wake.
And for generations of adults, the 1970 film version starring Jenny Agutter, beautifully directed by Lionel Jeffries, is a touchstone for their childhood. It’s still a family favourite.
I felt we could not only bring the story to a new audience in Southampton, for all ages, but that we could also do something interesting and a little different with this well-known and much-loved story.
Which brings me to the second reason I wanted to tackle this story: this adaptation by Mike Kenny.
It was first produced as a site-specific piece at York Railway Museum, featuring a live steam train. The show then moved into London for two highly successful runs, at Waterloo station and then Kings Cross. Both, again, featured a steam locomotive.
His main surprise was that the children are played by adults (20 year olds), to emphasise the family aspects and the humour that runs through the whole play.
We have a few surprises up our own sleeves. We plan to recreate ‘The Golden Age of Steam’ live on the NST Campus stage with an immersive experience, in the same way we created that distinctive atmosphere for our Agatha Christie production – but it’s the writing that really marks this adaptation out.
It’s fast moving and it’s funny. It moves along at a cracking pace like, well, like a train.
The structure is clever, and the dialogue directly involves the audience. As a result, we feel emotionally invested in the story. It really is for people of all ages.
It has some marvellous moments. Twinges of sadness, flashes of anger, moments of tenderness.
All the characters are beautifully drawn, in particular the central trio of children. If you haven’t seen this version, I think you’ll love it. (And we also have some fantastic actors rehearsing their socks off right now.)
My overall vision for the show is based on open staging with very fluid changes, projections, and fast-paced action, with evocative lighting and special effects. The emphasis is on fun and, for the cast, team work.
I want to give audiences a dynamic experience, gathering them up and taking them through the story. With a few surprises along the way.
So, how am I going to tackle the set-pieces on stage, those moments you may remember from the book or the film?
The simple answer is “you’ll have to wait and see”. But expect imaginative and inventive effects.
We are planning to give you the sense, sounds and visuals of a full-sized steam locomotive coming your way. We want you to feel a part of it. Expect immersive sound, lighting and special effects. We’re working hard to present the landslide in a very interesting way. The five-bar gate the children watch the trains from is the easy part.
Hope to see you there!
SUP proudly presents THE RAILWAY CHILDREN at NST Campus, 22-25 January 2020 – matinee on Sat 25th Jan
Book now: call 023 8067 1771 or click here
Tickets from just £10