Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Interview: Caroline Harker, starring in The Railway Children

Croline Harker is currently starring as Mother in the London revival of The Railway Children at the brand new King’s Cross Theatre. Caroline created the role in the play’s original run at Waterloo Station in 2010. 

The Railway Children is currently in previews ahead of its official opening on Wednesday 14th January 2015 and its run was recently extended to 6th September 2015. 

The York Theatre Royal production, which is in association with the National Railway Museum, once again features a live steam locomotive and a vintage carriage, originally built in 1896.

Caroline’s theatre credits include: Blithe Spirit (York Theatre Royal), Pride And Prejudice (Regent’s Park), The Village Bike (Sheffield Crucible), Tusk Tusk, The Strip and The Editing Process (all Royal Court), All Mouth (Menier), Entertaining Angels (Chichester/UK Tour), Present Laughter (UK Tour), Battle Royal (National), Falling (Hampstead), Things We Do For Love (Duchess) and Hidden Laughter (West End).

I recently spoke to Caroline about why she is reprising her performance in The Railway Children, the secret to the production’s success and what it has been like to rediscover the show…

When you found out The Railway Children was returning did you immediately jump at the chance to do it again?
Straight away I said “yes” because I had just done a play with Damian (Cruden) who is directing and also directed it before – I did Blithe Spirit with him in York. I love working with Damian so much that I had no hesitation. I know that’s odd because some people think they must never go backwards. Last time was a pretty unusual and special experience; site-specific theatre can be quite tough. At Waterloo there were lots of challenges, it wasn’t theatre as you know it and it was hard but I remember it so happily. It was a very good and rewarding time! It’s so nice to do something that you know the audience are enjoying!

What is its secret? Parents will take their kids and end up enjoying it just as much, there really is something very special and exciting about the production!
I’m trying to work it out! I suppose it works on so many levels and, as you say, it is for all generations. There aren’t many shows you can take the entire family to. You almost want to pass on this innocent and straightforward fantastic story to the next generation. It’s an adventure and there is somebody in the cast for everybody. Some audience members will identify with Mother, there are people who identify with Mr Perks and there are people who will identify with the children. Everyone is represented! These children are living a suburban middle-class life in London and suddenly they have to uproot and move to the countryside and they discover who they are! It’s the making of them! 

Jack Hardwick, Blair Plant & Caroline in rehearsals

You take the audience on such a big journey, what is it like to perform night after night? It must be a particularly exhausting show to do!
Well this time we are doing it twice a day very often! Strangely I think you do feel tired at the end and then you think, ‘Gosh I’ve got to do that again’. However, the moment it starts you see all these fresh faces in the audience, there are people who have travelled miles, and all these kids. Honestly Andrew, from the moment it begins it is like jumping on a train – it’s true! You get on that train, there’s an awful lot of music because it’s all underscored, and then off you go! It’s invigorating, but I think after doing two shows a day for a week or so the word ‘tired’ may be appropriate [laughs]. 

How did it feel to get back into the rehearsal room and rediscover the piece? Has much changed?
It has been very different! It was so strange, I didn’t know what to expect. At first people turned to me and asked, “Where were you at this bit?” and I wouldn’t be able to remember! But when I was more relaxed and just doing it, it would come back to me. I loved every single member of the old cast but this is a brand new cast and they bring such different things to it. It has been odd, but it feels right. It has been interesting and exciting!

The show has spectacular elements, but there is also a great deal of intimacy. The vibe is almost like a cross between West End and off-West End. How connected do you feel to the audience when performing the piece?
Very connected! I mean, practically speaking the back row is not far from us at all because it’s a long, shallow bank of seats. You are physically connected to everybody and Damian has rehearsed it in huge detail. Yes we’ve got big hair and loud voices and we’re trying to look into people’s eyes, but we know what we’re doing – our internal narrative is in action! It’s not done like a panto, in rehearsals it felt like we were working on a very serious play. 

I loved the show at Waterloo, but tell me about this brand new King’s Cross Theatre! What is it like?
Well I’m sitting in here now and it’s the same as Waterloo really. It’s extraordinary! They have just recreated it! They have built track where there wasn’t any track but you would never know. You can hear trains in the background occasionally, like you could at Waterloo, which is lovely. If you come and see it again Andrew you will feel like you’ve stepped back in time!

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

The Railway Children is booking at the King's Cross Theatre until 6th September 2015.
Please visit www.railwaychildrenlondon.com for further information and tickets.

Photo Credit: Johan Persson

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