Saturday, May 14, 2011


This weekend Collette and I attended the first play in our season of Mirvish Production shows. The play is The Railway Children. Apparantly based on a famous novel that has had TV and movie versions, none of which I have seen so I went into it "blind" one could say.
I knew a couple of things about this production. They built a 1,000 seat theatre especially for this play. The Roundhouse Theatre is just south of the Rogers Centre, by the Steamwhistle Brewery in what was, appropriately, a former train yard. And I knew that it featured a full size steam train nick named Vicky.

The staging was very impressive. The audience is seated on each side of a pair of train platforms that the run the length of the theatre. In the middle of the two platforms are the "tracks" represented by a deep gutter. Not only does the train run in this alley but so do pieces of stage, representing various locations in the show; a living room, a kitchen, the railway office etc. At one end of the tracks is a set of stairs leading to a kid of bridge, actors pass over this bridge as well as on the platforms, the moving stages and in the gutter itself.

Watching the cast run up and down the long platforms and up over this bridge, jumping from moving stage to the platform I concluded that the actors must be in some terrific shape to achieve all this.

The big steam locomotive only makes a couple of appearances. Other times the trains are represented by sound effects and flashing lights. At one point the main characters enter a railway tunnel; as they drop down on to the tracks, a pair of sheer black curtains are pulled the length of the stage, giving us a sense of darkness and constriction.

The staging was very imaginative but unfortunately it may have been the best thing about the show. The acting was solid enough, especially from the three actors who portray the titular children recounting a story from their youth.

What disapointed me was the story itself. It is based in Edwardian England and tells the story of three children and their mother who's middle class London life is torn asunder as their father is sent to prison, unjustly accused of espionage. The family moves to the rural Three Chimneys to begin a new life in poverty, where the trains present the kids with their escape from a drab reality.
Again, I no nothing about the source material. There seems to be something there. There is the father's situation, which is never fully explored in the play. There is the character of a Russian, fleeing the czar for his radical writing and again, never fully explored. There is the mother, a woman in this era who supports the family by her writing .. again, never fully explored.

There is poverty and a train collision and politics but every time the story seems ready to delved into some sort of dramatic depth, we are pulled away from it. There is no conflict in this story and very little tension. We are given a very bland and generic story of three children and their very luke warm adventures. It seems to me that this story has been very gentrified, made a family friendly as possible, and in so doing is about exciting as white bread soaked in milk.

The problem is, I don't know how much this will appeal to children. Yes there are kids in it and there is the train but I think a lot of kids will find this boring. I know I did .. we'll leave my child like or childish status out of this

The Roundhouse theatre is lovely, very intimate, though the acoustics were not great. For such a small space I had to struggle sometimes to hear the dialogue. The staging was imaginative but the star of the show shouldn't really be a giant train.

But it was.

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