“What is something as beautiful as you, doing in a place like this?” says one the characters of Peterborough Cathedral, as fact met fiction in last night’s opening of The Fletton Railway Children.
It was just one of many local references in city-born Julie Mayhew’s take on the E Nesbit classic, with three posh London children suddenly boarding a train – destination Peterborough North Station: “A place you pass through or get stuck at, you don’t go there,” declares Peter (Lewys Taylor) in the utterly charming and commpelling production from Eastern Angles theatre company at their new theatre space The Undercroft at Serpentine Green, Hampton.
Directed by Poppy Rowley, the 1960s coming-of-age tale begins with Cheryl (Lily Howkins), all mini-dress and Jean Shrimpton make-up, who is ready to say goodbye to her childhood and head off to Soho with one of the local boys.
Before joining her, best friend Bobbie (Lianne Harvey) insists she hears her tales of the family’s time in Peterborough, which she recounts with brother Peter and little sister Phyllis (Charlotte Ellen).
The cast switch from character to character cleverly and seamlessly with the simple set revolving to create new scenery, evoking memories of when they became “railway children” living in the Barracks - the railway cottages on Lincoln Road.
Their adventures - watching the trains, fishing in the Nene, walking into town and admiring the cathedral - are told with such glee and enjoyment it is infectious. But we are not spared the sorrow and pain of missing their absent father and caring for their sick mother.
I was particularly taken with Phyllis’s transformation from little girl to Mr Perks (wellingtons and a cap), the gruff station master at Peterborough East Station, the epicentre of their life, and Peter’s Pythonesque Mrs Perks, with just a headscarf and unfeminine voice.”
Knitted inbetween the storytelling quite nicely (and done with great lighting), almost Pathe news style, are details of Dr Beeching’s “modernisation” of the railways which led to the closure of the East station, coinciding with the children’s departure from our city.
You can see The Fletton Railway Children at The Undercroft in Serptentine Green shopping centre until November 5. Details from www.easternangles.co.uk