The stars are shining brightly at the Bristol Hippodrome this fortnight, as Starlight Express lights up the stage.
The show has come a long way since first rolling into the Apollo Victoria Theatre in London in 1984. It’s been revised and re-staged and re-toured a few times.
This version keeps the action on stage with a minimal spacious set and amazing lazer light show.
Anyone who is photosensitive or has sensory issues when it comes to lights will want to think carefully about coming along to this production. There are times when lights are directed into the auditorium, forcing you to look away if pointing towards you.
Throughout, the lighting is wonderful and has to be the main selling point of this show. The 3D racing effects are back and along with the lighting, the visual spectacular does take attention away from the superficial storyline and stereotypical characters.
Despite the female carriages being given a strong girl group number A Whole Lotta Locomotion, somehow the show manages to retain a minor air of misogyny about it. The girls are concerned about the age old problem of being u.n.c.o.u.p.l.e.d and for the guys, it’s all about winning the race. This is gender stereotyping at its finest. The females actors themselves are excellent and we warm to the ditzy Dinah –Ruthie Stephens – as she pines for her ex love Greaseball.
The storyline is as basic as trains racing each other. There is a small romantic story line and a lesson to be learnt by the first class carriage. But somehow it works really well. In fact, considering it was Lloyd-Webber’s intention to make the story into an animated short as early as 1975, it is very Toy Story 20 years before Buzz Lightyear first hit the shelves.
The love theme isn’t likely to tug on your heart strings, but it is an entertaining diversion and the skating and races are excellent.
There is no weak coupling in this show, nobody puts a wheel wrong and all the characters are spot on.
The closest we feel to empathy is when Kristofer Harding as a brilliant Rusty falls to his knees in Act Two. One audience member feels it so strongly, he breaks with convention to shout words of encouragement to the fictitious character.
As the little steam engine with big ideas, Harding gives a gentle, touching performance. When he finds his Starlight Express, it is the show’s best moment as he is encased in a star formed ball of light.
The entertaining pair of Greaseball – Jamie Capewell – and Elektra – Mykal Rand – fill the stage with their larger than life personalities . They get best song of the show One Rock and Roll Too Many with fabulously back stabby Red Caboose Stuart Armfield.
Thomas the Tank Engine it is not. But, it is very suitable for children – who can sit still – from around the ages of six years upwards, particularly if they love trains.
It’s bright, it’s wizzy and ultimately uplifting. Absolutely worth watching.
Starlight Express is at the Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 06 April 2013