A book that has captured the imaginations of children for over a hundred years has been made into a play for the Ottawa Little Theatre’s 102nd season. Directed by Jim McNabb, The Railway Children turned the small stage inside of this theatre into various locations, allowing its patrons to experience what these children did throughout their story.
Published in 1906, Edith Nesbit’s The Railway Children is about three children, Roberta, Peter and Phyllis, who had to leave their home in London after their father, who worked for the Foreign Office, was accused of espionage, for the English countryside. They lived near the railway, and had many adventures while they were there until their father was finally found innocent of the charges brought up against him.
Since this play was a family friendly one to watch, I decided to take both of my daughters to watch The Railway Children with me. This was my younger daughter’s first experience at a play like this, so I was a little nervous about how well she would behave for a two-hour play.
Once we arrived at the Ottawa Little Theatre, we showed out tickets to an usher and quickly took our seats as the show was to begin shortly. Luckily, we were seated at the back of the theatre and near the door, just in case I needed to make a, uh, hasty exit. As the house lights went up, I looked at my daughter’s eyes, and saw that both of them were in wonder about the play we were going to see.
I loved how the actors made use of the stage. I was trying to imagine how they were going to fit certain backgrounds and props onto this stage, and it was pretty ingenious. Everything the actors needed for every scene of the play was on stage, and they moved structures such as walls and platforms around into various different positions as needed. Most of the actors also played different parts as they were needed throughout the play, and there was a chest on the stage where the actors were changing in and out of outfits while the play was happening. It was great to see the range that these talented people had to play one person, and then at the drop of a hat to become someone drastically different.
All of us loved the sound and the lighting used to help bring about the effects of the train and other scenes of the play. Whenever my younger daughter heard the horns and the train’s engine, she was expecting a large engine to come motoring across the stage. The crew also had illustrations from the book The Railway Children projected onto some of the structures of the stage to help enhance the sets and the scenes. It really helped to put audience members into those particular moments of the play.
I cannot forget to comment about the actors who portrayed the lead characters! Katherine Norland (Roberta), Elie Dib (Peter) and Alexandria Hodgson (Phyllis) were fabulous! They told the story of these funny and clever children. We connected with each of them instantly. We all especially loved when they would interact with the audience. It was always funny, and brought even more fun, for patrons, to the play. My daughters really liked Phyllis because she was a bit of a silly character. My eldest also liked Peter because of his funny perceptions of certain aspects of life, like his thoughts on the difference between stealing coal and mining coal from a pile of coal at the railway station to help heat their home. His explanation was hilarious!
Jim McNabb did an amazing job of connecting all of the moving parts of The Railway Children together. He was able to make us feel different emotions throughout the play, and take us out of the theatre without leaving our seats. Before watching this play, I got the chance to interview Jim McNabb, and now I can really put into perspective all of the hard work he, the cast and the crew have put into this play.
Overall, we enjoyed our time at The Ottawa Little Theatre watching The Railway Children. My younger daughter had a great time watching the play, and wants to see more of them in the future, thanks to this positive experience. My eldest, who shares my love of the theatre, also enjoyed this production. Her favourite parts were the “inanimate” objects on the stage made from some of the actors covered by a cloth that was coloured to look like whatever they were supposed to be. “It” would help The Railway Children by giving them props. It seems like a simple thing, but you would have to see it to get why it amused us so much. After seeing this play, I am not going out to buy the book, as I have never had the pleasure of reading it, and experiencing what I saw at the Ottawa Little Theatre all over again in my head. We really had an amazing time!
Here are some pictures of my younger daughter during the intermission portion of the play. My eldest was very comfortable in her seat, and my younger daughter needed to stretch her legs.
If you would like more information about the Ottawa Little Theatre or their production of The Railway Children, you can visit their wesite. You can also connect with the Ottawa Little Theatre on Twitter (@OttawaLTheatre) and on Facebook!