Review: The Titfield Thunderbolt, The Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh, until August 15, then St Edmunds Hall, Southwold August 17-29
- Credit: Archant
Suffolk Summer Theatres, based at Southwold and Aldeburgh, have long had a reputation for mastering the art of alchemy – creating theatrical gold from seemingly limited resources.
Their latest piece of wizardry sees the ingenious transfer of the much-loved Ealing classic The Titfield Thunderbolt from the cinema screen to the stage. Tampering with a recognised film classic is something which should never be undertaken lightly but director Mark Sterling engineers this transfer with some style and a great deal of wit.
The story is set in the early 1950s at the time of The Beeching Cuts when rural railway branch lines were being axed to save money. The village of Titfield looks set to lose their rail link to the world and so the local vicar and landowner decide to run the railway themselves.
However, the nefarious owner of the local bus company decides to make sure that the fledgling company doesn’t survive its first month.
The production is a glorious evocation of a bygone age. It’s also a celebration of community and provides interesting echoes with today as more and more of our community services are being run by volunteers – everything from rural mini-bus routes to small-scale cinemas and arts venues.
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It’s a great ensemble show and the cast keep everything light and moving along at a brisk pace. In order to capture the full scale of the story the six cast members don’t just double-up, they triple and quadruple the number of parts they play. Unfortunately, director Mark Sterling is tempted to have a little too much fun with the format and allows the cast to step out of the play during the second half and acknowledge that characters can’t re-appear because the actors are busily playing someone else.
While the audience love being in-on-the-joke, it would be better if the director kept faith with the play and played it straight because Sterling displays a lot of ingenuity in the staging of this Ealing classic.
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The set is a real team effort pooling the talents of carpenter Alan Horne, props master Ian Sheward and long-serving designer Maurice Rubens. They not only produce a full length station platform, which spans the width of the stage, but hinged sections open out to reveal the interior of the vicarage and the local pub.
However, the pièce de résistance is the realisation of a moving train, which in a makeshift theatre is a minor miracle.
It’s a great ensemble show with lots of energy but Harry Gostelow as the Rev Sam Weech and town clerk Mr Blakeworth, Amy Christina Murray as feisty barmaid Joan Weech and Clive Flint as boozy entrepeneur Mr Valentine and Vernon Crump stand out and conjure up these and other characters at the drop of a hat.