E. NESBIT'S The Railway Children is a cracking story but a big ask for any drama group, requiring three outstanding lead characters on stage nearly all night with a mighty lot of lines to learn.

Thankfully Furness Youth Theatre has what it takes. Aurora Park, Ethan Weir-Preston and Jessica Bailey are not just outstanding actors, they have engaging personalities who quickly have the audience enjoying the story and caring about what happens to the delightful family (even if they are Southerners with la-di-da accents).

As eldest sibling Bobby, Aurora commands the stage every moment she is on it with the right edge of bossiness hiding the uncertainties of a child beginning to see into the difficult world of grown-ups.

Ethan, as the middle child and only boy Peter, manages to be suitably sexist and nerdy yet still likeable, while Jessica totally steals hearts as youngest force-of-nature Phyllis.

These three could appear on any stage in the country and do it proud. With their nicely honed Home Counties vowels and distinctive characters you never stop believing they are the characters they play.

They are well supported by Jade Hird as their mother, stunningly elegant in her fabulous dress and hat and portraying a gracious, strong woman who adores her children but can lose it when pushed too far.

Will Buckley provides the perfect contrast as the bluntly Yorkshire railway porter Perks, proud but kindly and permanently under the thumb of a tiny but feisty Mrs Perks, nicely played by Maisie Wilcock.

The rest of the cast have little cameos as the story unfolds and they have clearly been told that for their little scene they are the big star. Among many, Lennon Scott is wonderfully stoical as the grave, thoughtful Doctor; you would definitely want Natalie Dean, the maid, to work for you while Ben Thomas and Juliette Winter wield a fine spade as railway workers.

This is not a money-no-object production and the big stage at the Forum is hard to fill, especially when your cast members are on a small scale, but there is a moment where expense has not been spared and leaves the audience gasping. I won’t spoil the surprise by saying what it is, but well done FYT. For the rest of the special effects some quality sound effects and well used smoke leave you believing you can see the trains.

The show opens with Railway Roundabout, a short round-up of history, songs and stories about trains which gives the tinier members of the group, and some of the bigger ones with not much to do in the main show, a chance to shine. There are some potential big stars in there with solo singers and a dancer who can really dance among the highlights and I promise you will be delighted when the runaway train appears.

The show is in the hugely capable hands of Chris Loveless and it’s clear the children are learning stagecraft by the bucketful from him.

Review by HELEN WALL