Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Ending the Theatre Year in the Best Possible Way

The Railway Children

Arts Centre Community Theatre Company , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , December-21-18
The Railway Children by Arts Centre Community Theatre Company Theatre is distinct from the other arts in three respects. There are its obvious formal and spatial aspects but it has a temporal dimension. This brings it closer than gallery, screen or concert hall can do to our own patterns of living. In the west it ebbs and moves with the seasons. January opens with a blaze of colour from the Wardens with a multi-generational company of fifty. The year closes in the same way, the large stage of the finely refurbished Theatr y Werin hosting a company of 54 for the weekend before Christmas. The auditorium is satisfactorily packed.

This quality of an annual rhythm goes so far that “the Railway Children” is reviewed on exactly the same day, December 21st, as was “the Little Match Girl” in 2017. For this year some things have changed but some not. Anna Sherratt is director and Laura Oliver production assistant. Saoirse Morgan and Dyfan Rhys are new names on graphic design and sound and audio-visual design. With Karen Evans as wardrobe mistress the roles all combine for the first act climax. With a landslide blocking the rail track Roberta (Matilda Kirk) and Phyllis (Heledd Davies) turn red petticoats into waving flags to halt the oncoming express.

Behind the scenes the production has benefit of continuity of company. Gill Ogden is producer, Nick Bache lighting designer and Pete Lochery set designer and constructor. In formal terms the story is episodic rather than concentratedly dramatic. The four members of the Wetherby family move in straitened circumstances to 3 Chimney Cottages for reasons that are undisclosed until late on.

Their new world is one of small welcome. It is a place of Edwardian lace and bonnets where the inhabitants have names like Albert and Agatha. A gaggle of villagers (among them Paula Gallagher, Mair Gopalan, Katrina Williams, Meg Tiddeman, Lynne Blanchfield, Paulina Skronska) regularly gather to share tittle tattle and disapproval. At school the teacher, well steeped in Latin, is fierce and punitive. Station porter Mr Perks (Jason Philpot) guards his coal stocks against the raids of Peter (Reggie Hayword.)

The structure of plot means that the adult performers play roles that come and go. Familiar faces like Sian Taylor and Roger Boyle keep the story momentum going. Emma Sims and Tom O'Malley have jumped a generation. She is now a parent and he the Old Gentleman. Magdalena Mazur's Mrs Perks is the first to warm to the new arrivals. But the show is made by its young performers. It is not a new line as I wrote the same precisely a year back. But it is true, the trio for the opening night displaying charm, vitality and vulnerability.

Theatre elicits emotion. Mark Ravenhill: “we belittle art when we make it into information.” The company ends the show with a singing of “Good King Wenceslas.” The story's climax is an archetype, joy and embrace in a rejoining with a loved one. In the foyer a theatre veteran is to be seen wiping a tear from her eye; exactly as it should be.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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