The theatrical experience has long been escaping the confines of traditional theatres to pop up in all sorts of unusual places, but there couldn't have been a more appropriate one than an actual railway station platform for a stage version of E.Nesbit's much-loved children's story The Railway Children that received its London premiere four years ago in the decommissioned Eurostar terminal at Waterloo.
Now that Eurostar has moved to St Pancras, The Railway Children has followed suite. But since Eurostar actually needs its platforms, the producers have done the next best thing: they've created a handsome purpose-built auditorium in a series of tents immediately behind King's Cross station. Not that you'd know that you were sitting in a tent, I hasten to add; this is no circus, but a massive barn-like structure big enough to accommodate a real-life train engine and a carriage. (There's also room for a large wood-floored bar and ample toilets).
Written in 1905 and best known for the film version, this stage production chugs into glorious 3D view with the audience seated on either side of a train track running down the middle. Here, this story of a family's relocation to Yorkshire when the father is imprisoned for spying is spellbindingly played out as an evocative memory play of the innocence of childhood and the pains of growing up.
There may be a bit too much narration at times, but Damian Cruden's production, imaginatively staged on platforms that travel up and down the gulley of the track in Joanna Scotcher's brilliant design, comes into its own when a real steam train and carriage hove thrillingly into view.
Special praise is due to Craig Vear for his sound design that amplifies the actors' voices but still feels as if the words are coming from their mouths in this vast space. The performances are similarly subtle and genuinely heartfelt: there's warm, witty work from Jeremy Swift (best known now as Maggie Smith's butler in Downton Abbey) as station master Mr Perks, and a lovely sorrow and concern from Caroline Harker's mother that makes her plight very moving.