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Rails review at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick – ‘poignant and poetic’

Toby Vaughan and Oliver Mott in Rails at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick. Photo: Robert Day

While Simon Longman’s Gundog at London’s Royal Court earlier this year depicted two sisters struggling to keep a family farm afloat, his new play Rails shows brothers in a remote rural town where cars fill up to drive away and the freight trains run through but never stop.

Despite the change of setting, there are striking similarities: parental absence, a frustrating sense of isolation and impending crisis frame both pieces.

In stifling summer heat, 16-year-old, scooter-obsessed Mike (Toby Vaughan) dreams about the girl who lives opposite, while his older brother Ben (Oliver Mott) is stuck in a dead-end job at the local garage. Their mum, Deb (Christine Entwisle), sits comatose in front of the TV. As Sarah, the focus of Mike’s attention, Lydea Perkins captures teenage sassiness and bravado well – she might talk like an adult, but when picked on by older kids, a child-like panic flashes across her face.

Longman’s wry, poetic style is given free rein as each character’s monologue voices thoughts that might otherwise be left unsaid. Though this device shows the conflict between, say, Ben’s bullying behaviour and his concern for his brother, it can make the narrative seem ponderous and repetitive. Yet the more naturalistic dialogue scenes, particularly between Vaughan and Perkins, touchingly ring true.

With the staging in traverse, Georgia de Grey’s striking set is dominated by a decaying skate-ramp on which Tim Mascall’s lighting beats down to evoke the dog-day sun.

Giles Thomas’ brooding, ambient score underpins the action throughout, its gently repeating chord sequences heightening the characters’ emotions.

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Poetic and poignant if drawn-out study of growing up in a remote, dead-end town