A former student and friend of Tim’s, Trent Reedy, came into town from the States to publicize his book “Words in the Dust”, which has just been published in the UK. Trent was a soldier in Afghanistan. He went into the military to pay for his college education when 9/11 changed his life. His book for young adults came out of his experiences with the children that he met in Afghanistan.
On our way to meet Trent, we walked through the Old Vic Tunnels so that Tim could see where I had gone to see Orpheus and Eurydice.
The tunnels led us into a long and wonderful stroll along the Southbank. Saturday on the Southbank is a festival of treats – there were booths selling every kind of food imaginable, living statues, dancers and musicians. A woman was playing an instrument called a “Hang Drum” that looked like a small cliché of a flying saucer and sounded like an unearthly combination of an oil drum and a harp. I couldn’t find a video of the woman we heard, but this clip from YouTube will give you a sense of the potential of the instrument. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0xxnFqdBCE&feature=related
We met Trent for dinner at the Thameside Pub, near London Bridge. Other than his tour of duty in Afghanistan, Trent hasn’t been outside of the US, so his trip to the UK was quite an adventure. Trent also loves theatre, so we decided that his arrival in London gave us a perfect excuse to see the stage version of “The Railway Children”. After our pub dinner, we walked back along the Southbank to Waterloo station to see the play.
The Railway Children has been playing in London for a few years and one of the reasons for its success is the setting – the play takes place in the Waterloo train station (a Toronto version takes place in a train roundhouse). It is a part of Waterloo that used to house the Eurostar to Paris. The Eurostar now goes to St. Pancras Station, so a whole section of Waterloo is unused. And if there is one thing I am learning about London it is that NO space is ever left empty.
To get to the “theatre”, you must pass through the former customs and immigration areas. Snack bars are in use as such, so you can get any manner of treats before seeing the play. The bleachers for the audience seats are arranged on either side of the train platforms. The action takes place along the length of the platforms, as well as on sliding stages that come along the train tracks. At one point a full train arrives on the tracks. It is a wonderfully effective staging that easily transports you to a kinder, gentler time.
I had forgotten entirely that I had read the Railway Children, and as each new thing happened I could greet it like an old friend. It is a kind story, with a generosity of spirit. The children are aware that there are adult secrets they cannot to share, things outside of their understanding. They do their best to solve problems, but they are only barely players in their story. They have adventures while the larger adventures of life happen around them.
As an audience member, I was grateful for the respite from the intensity of the outside world. From wars, illnesses and consequences. It was a lovely little holiday of an evening.