It’s turning into a busy summer for Alison Deon.
Not only is the Nelson theatre grad performing an ensemble role eight times a week in a major Toronto production, she’s also understudying four of the play’s largest roles — one of which she’s already tried on for audiences.
The show is the North American premiere of the English hit The Railway Children. Adapted from a turn-of-the-century novel by E. Nesbit, it tells the story of the Waterbury children, who are thrust into poverty when their father is falsely accused of selling state secrets to the Russians.
“I guess you could say it’s story theatre,” says Deon. “There’s a lot of direct address, the actors speak directly to the audience a lot. It’s kind of brilliantly adapted, because it’s really appealing to kids but it’s also got a lot of humour and stuff that adults find quite entertaining.”
The show also has some unique staging. The theatre Deon performs in was specially built for the production, to accommodate an authentic Victorian-era steam engine which chugs on and off stage.
“It’s really challenging when you’re dealing with train tracks and an actual train. There’s a lot of safety stuff you have to think about,” says Deon.
“But it’s pretty unique, and when the train comes into the theatre there’s a lot of oohs and aahs.”
The Railway Children opened at the beginning of May with no set closing date, and has already been extended until the beginning of September.
If ticket sales are strong through the summer — so far the 1,000-capacity theatre has stayed quite full — it could go even longer.
While her main role is that of a Yorkshire kitchen maid attending the Waterbury family, Deon is also an understudy for both of the female railway children, Bobbie and Phyllis, and two other key characters.
“I’ve been going on all week as one of the roles that I understudy, so that’s been kind of crazy,” she says, adding she’s still doing rehearsals for her four understudy roles.
“I’ve understudied before a lot in my career, but never on this scale. I’ve never had quite so much to learn, and a lot of it has been learned on the fly… It’s like trial by fire, I guess.”
An L.V. Rogers grad and active participant in the Nelson theatre scene in her teenage years, Deon has worked steadily on stage since graduating from theatre school in 2005. She says her hometown’s abundance of theatre inspired her to continue acting at the professional level.
“Maybe unlike people from other small towns, I always felt like it was possible,” she says. “There are a lot of people in Nelson who have had professional careers in theatre, so I always knew that it could be done.”