Filmed stories can use lavish settings and spectacular effects. Such things are well beyond the budget for most touring theatre groups, so ingenuity has to take their place. Studio Canal is a company which I haven’t come across before, but the Bruce James production of Philip Goulding’s adaptation of the classic Ealing comedy screenplay by TEBClarke for The Titfield Thunderbolt shows what you can do with five actors, a minimalist set – and a lot of goodwill (not to mention participation) from the audience.
Gags about bureaucracy, jobsworths and the economic situation come over as applicable to 2010 as 1952. It’s a merit of the script that it’s imposible to disentangle Clarke from Goulding. One of the hardest-working cast members is Nick Barclay, very funny both as the spiv-like Vernon Crump and the laid-back, gin-tippling financier Valentine. David Rumelle seems to play just about everyone else in a succession of quick changes; I liked the way his Harry Crump contrasted so much with Barclay as his father.
David Lonsdale is the vicar with a passion for steam engines – very helpful when your local branch line has Dr Beeching’s axe poised over it. Sophie Leigh as his niece has just the right amount of spark as well as sparkle to make the part something more than just a purely decorative ingénue role while Sarah Thomas makes local landowner Lady Chesterford the driving force in the campaign to save Titfield without turning her into a two-dimensional battleaxe. Great fun.