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Edith Nesbit was born on 15th August 1858, the youngest daughter of an agricultural chemist and teacher. Her childhood was touched with tragedy – her father died suddenly when Edith was just four years old – and it is thought these experiences gave her inspiration for her later work.
The Railway Children is perhaps Edith Nesbit’s best known children’s story and has never been out of print since it was published in 1905. Dealing with the crippling loss of a parent is a central theme of the plot, devised by acclaimed playwright Mike Kenny. The 2015 adaptation sees The Railway Children not only reunited with the Museum where it originated, but also with the purpose-built 1,000-seat Signal Box Theatre in which it delighted Canadian audiences during its 2011 run in Toronto.
To mark the authors’ birthday in style, The Railway Children cast blew out the birthday candles in front of the Great Western Railway Pannier Tank 5775, the locomotive that appeared in the well-loved seventies film starring Jenny Agutter. The show has won extensive critical praise for its use of a live steam locomotive in a thrilling set-piece, and the loco is definitely one of the biggest guest stars ever to grace the UK stage. It was repainted at the National Railway Museum’s Shildon site late last year to reflect the fictional caramel-brown livery from the Lionel Jeffries movie, just in time for its star appearance.
The long-awaited homecoming of The Railway Children to York marks a new milestone in the seven-year partnership between the National Railway Museum and York Theatre Royal. The production forms part of York Theatre Royal’s residency at the Museum whilst the theatre undergoes its £4.1m redevelopment, and will run from 31 July to 5 September 2015.
It’s definitely a case of third time lucky as it’s the first time that the theatre and the museum have worked in full partnership to deliver a summer of activities for the whole family to enjoy – from steam to stage. The production features a brand new cast of Railway ‘Children’ as well as returning cast members including beloved York pantomime favourite Martin Barrass in the role of Mr Perks.
The Railway Children played to sell out audiences in 2008 and 2009. Over 24,000 people saw The Railway Children in 2008, and demand for tickets was so great that the last three weeks of the show was completely sold out, meaning hundreds of people had to be turned away.
It went on to delight sell-out audiences at Waterloo and in Toronto in 2010 and 2011, and is enjoying a successful run at London Kings Cross station. With such a history of critical acclaim and audience praise behind the show, directed by York Theatre Royal’s Artistic Director Damian Cruden, it should be no surprise the reviews for the York homecoming are glowing with a stunning 5 stars from The Stage.
The Railway Children was very close to Edith’s own heart - she wrote in the book itself that she was ‘growing very fond’ of the character Roberta, immortalised by Jenny Agutter and now Rozzi Nicholson -Lailey in the latest York production.
Rozzi aka ‘Bobbie’ said: “Over 100 years before JK Rowling was famous, Edith Nesbit was writing especially for children. We’re really pleased to be marking her birthday as a way of saying thank you for her timeless story which we enjoy acting out every day on a real railway track in our very special Signal Box Theatre.”
The cast of The Railway Children sing Happy Birthday to E. Nesbit