The Railway Children, Norwich

CHARLES ROBERTS Children's theatre can be as compelling as any “grown up” show – and certainly the youngsters who filled the Theatre Royal were listening attentively and responding like any good audience.

CHARLES ROBERTS

Children's theatre can be as compelling as any “grown up” show – and certainly the youngsters who filled the Theatre Royal last night were listening attentively and responding like any good audience.

The surprise was that in direction, acting and sets alike, this production does not merit such attention. Strong, imaginative direction is almost absent, and its stolidness is carried through to much of the playing. Worse, diction is often poorly shaped and projected – and in the case of two of the three Railway Children of the title, “character voices” are adopted which grate on the teeth as much as they tire the most sympathetic ear.

John Hasler as Peter, and Kerris Peeling as Phyllis, share high register, adenoidal, shrill vocal patterns which make one wonder whether the director ever listened to them.

The third of the trio, Danielle Bygraves as Roberta, is in a different league, with an innate understanding of the girl's character, which shines as much in her physical interpretation as in her lovely vocal cadences. A key figure in the tale is The Old Gentleman, whom Brian Cant catches with warmth and thoughtful detail. He also directs, but not, as we have seen, with equal perceptiveness.

The funniest, most endearing character to emerge, one has to say, is a large puppet hound named James, whose pantomime expressions are wonderfully funny, suggesting the classic cur of one of Shakespeare's comic buffoons. Close behind him in appeal is a large ginger cat who, as all cats do, hogs attention on each appearance.

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And the set? There is only one. Nothing here to help spark young imaginations, nor older ones either, come to that; though the lighting man does his best to give it some colour and variety, plus masses of stage smoke trying repeatedly to add a tad of mystery.

t Box office: 01603 630000.

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