NO fewer than 406 cinemas nationwide will screen Ross MacGibbon's film presentation of York Theatre Royal's stage hit The Railway Children on Easter Monday.

Damian Cruden's production already had travelled south to Waterloo Station and King's Cross in London and overseas to Toronto in Canada, and now the Theatre Royal has joined New York's Metropolitan Opera and the National Theatre's NT Live programme in taking over a cinema screen. It is hard to think of a more effective tool to spread word of the theatre's award-winning prowess.

It is not a film per se, but a stage-to-screen recording of a performance during last summer's run in the Signal Box Theatre at the National Railway Museum, where MacGibbon asked the cast to carry on as normal, while his crew's seven cameras went about their business. Consequently, the performing style remains theatrical, more heightened and expansive than film acting, with the need to project the voice to 1,000 people divided either side of a rail track.

Something of the grand scale, in particular the magnificence of the steam locomotive, is lost in the proximity of the filming and so too is a full physical awareness of just how much running the Railway Children, Rozzi Nicholson-Lailey's Roberta, Izaak Cainer's Peter and Beth Lilly's Phyllis, had to do along the long, long platforms.

York Press:

York Theatre Royal staff, cast, crew and family at Wednesday's preview screening of The Railway Children at City Screen, York. Picture: Michael J Oakes

On the other hand, as has been the case in NT Live screenings, the close-ups are so beneficial, not least everyone being able to listen in on the conversation between the children's Father (Robert Angell) and two arresting officers, which previously was out of hearing range for those at the opposite end of the traverse stage.

The performances of Andrina Carroll's Mother and Nicholson-Lailey's Roberta, in particular, become even more impressive, even more moving, while Mike Kenny's dialogue benefits from the camera's focus, pointing up his more serious themes, such as displacement and wrongful imprisonment, but benefiting the abundant humour as well. The slickness of the staging is very apparent too.

Apparently Monday's weather will be the worst of the Easter break: the perfect excuse to spend 128 minutes in the company of E Nesbit's The Railway Children (certificate U) at City Screen or Vue, York.