Anne-Marie Marquess climbs aboard the sensational Starlight Express
Starlight Express is one of the best things that’s ever rolled into the Grand Opera House. It’s a star studded, visually stunning, electrifying extravaganza that lights up the stage and leaves you reeling for more. Pure, unadulterated entertainment from start to finish, I’ve never seen an audience so animated by a theatrical performance.
Starlight Express is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. Unconventional and bordering on the nonsensical but 100% enjoyable, an incredibly talented group of performers bring you acting, dancing, singing, roller-skating and stunts that will leave you dazzled and dazed. Throw in some fantastic costumes, genius make-up, spectacular lighting, special effects and 3D vision and you’ve got one unstoppable train.
I didn’t know exactly what to expect when I turned up to see this musical. I had learnt about it a few years ago after a guy in college spotted me and a friend rollerblading one night in the university campus grounds and mentioned the show. 'Starlight Express', I thought… how magical! Despite being an Andrew Lloyd Webber fan and having seen Joseph, Jesus Christ Superstar, Phantom of the Opera, Evita and Cats, I hadn’t heard of this one. I knew it was something I most definitely wanted to see. And I wasn’t remotely disappointed.
This is a feel good musical, but difficult to compare to anything else. Totally unique, some parts were like a Sci-Fi version of Grease, others like Battle of the Planets. The voice that comes out of nowhere saying 'Control!' almost made me feel like I was on a space ship. The costumes reminded me of Buck Rogers, Tron or Sarah Brightman in 'I lost my heart to a Starship Trooper'. Hot Gossip or Pan's People in space suits. The stage was full of sexy, sassy Sci-Fi skaters. Totally out of this world. Full credit to original director Trevor Nunn and the choreographer Arlene Phillips, with the rest of the cast and crew, as this production was fast paced and faultless.
The plot is a weird one. It’s all about trains - different types of trains, steam, electric, diesel, each one trying to outdo the other and win the race. But don’t think normal trains, think of a midnight train on acid! One with a face, but far funkier and more modern than Ivor the Engine. The show is also about love, rivalry, competition, hopes, dreams and the boy next door who wants the beautiful girl. It’s uplifting, entertaining and inspiring and the music will appeal to a broad audience. The story here is about taking risks, surviving knock backs and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, ultimately learning to believe in yourself. It will definitely put a smile on your face.
Our two lovetrains are Rusty (Kristofer Harding) and Pearl (Amy Webb). Pearl’s a singer. She’s also a dancer, a skater and a heart-breaker. She’s the observation carriage and is beautiful to observe. Rusty’s the guy next door with the heart of gold who gets overshadowed by the muscle man with the slick moves, Greaseball (Tom Kanavan). He’s a cross between John Travolta and Elvis, a real rock 'n' roller. Poppa (Michael Samuels) is a rolling stone and the older, wiser one belting out the blues numbers. Electra (Mykal Rand) is the sparkling, eccentric electric train that moves in on Pearl. And Dinah (Lucy-Jane Adcock) is your modern day Dolly Parton, the dining train with the southern twang who goes gaga over Greaseball. There’s too many characters to mention, but they were all brilliant.
Dinah likes Greaseball, Greaseball likes Pearl, Electra likes Pearl, Rusty likes Pearl and Pearl’s pretty much spoiled for choice. She joins Electra, then leaves him for Greaseball who discards Dinah who rebounds with Electra. Meanwhile, Rusty’s feeling pretty neglected. And even more so when he’s left damaged at the hands of bullies. Rusty soon gets his spark back, though, and saves Pearl from crashing and burning. She then realises that the fastest trains aren’t necessarily the best and sometimes the nicest carriage isn’t the shiniest or the snazziest one, but the reliable one that keeps on going even in the face of adversity. The rusty train with the big heart.
This is, perhaps, one of the most talented casts you are ever likely to come across. Not only do the performers act, sing and dance, they had to attend an intensive skate school for four weeks before they started on anything else. Their smooth, seamless skating is testament to Starlight’s success. It is estimated that 16 million people have seen the show worldwide. A postman from Kent has watched it a record 750 times, spending £21,000 on his passion.
This is as close as Belfast is going to get to blading. I hope it inspires more people to get their skates on though, and not just teenagers, as skating is such a fun form of exercise. It’s popular in the USA and in Paris they have a weekly Friday night group skate from 10pm-1am called 'Pari Roller', where they close off city streets to let hundreds (sometimes thousands) of skaters glide through. This is the largest group skate in the world, with a whole organisation dedicated to it. In Berlin, there's a Sunday night skate and there's all kinds of rollerskating activities going on all over the world.
I have always loved roller blading and would love to see it take off in NI. Maybe someone will open a roller rink, like the 1980's roller movie Xanadu. Who knows? In the meantime, Starlight Express is out there and it’s a place where dreams can come true. Hitch a ride full of thrills and go full speed ahead to the most sensational show that’s ever skated into Belfast. It's an adrenaline filled roller-coaster ride that’s the ultimate reality escape!