We can’t wait to see The Railway Children at Hull Truck Theatre. In this interview with Mark Babych (Director) and Mike Kenny (Playwright), we find out how E Nesbit’s classic tale has been transformed into a wonderfully fun and festive show that’s perfect for all the family.
Mark, why did you choose The Railway Children for HTT’s Christmas show?
There are many elements to why we chose The Railway Children, but mainly because the story is so rooted in family and community that it resonates strongly with our values as a company and speaks to the themes that we embed through much of our work.
I’d worked on the original version Mike had written for York Theatre Royal as Associate Director for the 2011 staging at Waterloo Station, which of course was at a very different scale from the one we are presenting here (it had a real steam train and a 1000 seat theatre). It was always going to be important therefore that we found our way of doing things that was different. The addition of songs enables us to do this and when the original date for performing the show in 2020 was cancelled due to the pandemic, it gave Mike and John [John Biddle, Composer] longer to refine this new approach as well as enabling us to consider how we would create the physical journeys made in the story.
Mike, The Railway Children was first staged in 2008. What do you think draws audiences and theatres back to it time and time again?
For me, it all started with the book, which I read as a child. Of all the books I read back then, Narnia, The Hobbit, Wind in the Willows, it stood out because it is rooted in the real world. There’s no fantasy at all in The Railway Children. All the characters are very real, and the challenges that they face are relatable (spoiler alert – even a wrongly arrested father). Even more amazingly, although it was written over a 100 years ago, it feels like now. We are still facing things like poverty and prejudice, there are still political refugees searching for their families. Despite this, the book is not heavy, it is full of humour, the children sound like people we know (only the slang has aged, not many people get called a ‘brick’ these days.) But most of all, I think people return to it because it is full of kindness. Bobby, Phyllis and Peter are constantly trying to the right thing. They don’t always succeed, but their openness tends to bring out the best in people.
Mark, can you give us any hints about how you’ll create the train?
Now that would be telling! There are several train moments and of course we have had to find a variety of ways to do this, not least the big moment at the end of Act One, but all I’ll reveal for now is that we wanted to create a thrilling sensory experience. Other than that, people will have to buy a ticket to find out!
Mike, this new version includes fresh songs – how did you go about writing new lyrics to weave into the script?
I have been thinking about it for years, actually. Ever since Andrew Lloyd Webber came to see the original production. It made me think we may have missed a trick, and that parts of the story would actually be better told in song. In fact, I wondered if he was going to go away and turn it into a musical – I wouldn’t put it past him. So, when Mark suggested it, I jumped at the chance. He put John Biddle and me together and we clicked immediately. There are things you can do musically, which are very hard to do with words alone. Things which are themes in the play, like the separation of fathers and families, or like the importance of hope in people’s lives can be realised musically in a way that goes straight to your heart. It packs such an emotional punch.
Mark. in what ways does the story have relevance in 2021?
The story has strong themes of loss and absence, arrivals and departures, kindness and community and ultimately hope. After such a difficult time for us all, isn’t it good to be reminded of the best of what makes us human and keep hold of our optimism even in the hardest of times.
Mark, what can audiences expect when they come to see the show?
Our Festive shows are magical experiences that everyone in the family can enjoy together. The Railway Children features a blend of story, music, movement and song, with beautiful lighting, set and costume, providing a gorgeous visual spectacle and a sound world that enhances the story, all performed by an exceptionally talented cast!
I really hope this show is an opportunity for families and friends to come together and share the unique experience of a live show.
The Railway Children runs at Hull Truck Theatre from Friday 26 November to Sunday 2 January. To book your tickets, please call the box office on 01482 323638 or visit www.hulltruck.co.uk