Review: Starlight Express, Playhouse

This visually stimulating production of Starlight Express has stunning lighting and a 3D element
This visually stimulating production of Starlight Express has stunning lighting and a 3D element
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When it comes to spectacular lights, costumes and make-up, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s long-running roller skating razzmatazz is right up there as one of the most visually stimulating introductions to theatre.

***

An electrifying celebration of steam trains, this updated production – currently on a whistle-stop tour at the Playhouse – is, for the most part, an aptly hot, steamy affair that chugs along in (mostly) the right direction.

Unfortunately, modern health and safety regulations have curtailed the extent of what the performers can do; thus, any previous opportunity to roll out onto a catwalk and “into” the audience has been restricted to trying to avoid bumping into each other within the regular dimensions of the stage.

Fans, take note.

For those who haven’t seen Starlight Express before, though, it’s a taster of how exhilarating theatre can be. Case in point: the 3D element, where the audience is advised to put on their safety goggles (3D glasses) during the racing scenes.

You might get a more impressive 3D experience for your buck down the local cinema, however there was at least one instance where the audience genuinely flinched as a section of “debris” came flying towards them.

As for the plot? Well, there never really was one when Webber first devised the concept: basically, a young kid imagines his train-set coming to life, wherein steam (Rusty), electric (Electra) and diesel (Greaseball) engines have to fight it out with one other.

A bona fide story would just get in the way of all the action anyway.

Lighting Designer Nick Richings’ lasers, meanwhile, literally go far and beyond your usual theatre lighting rig. The video projection elements were reminiscent of the animation in Dire Straits’ Money For Nothing music-video. And the songs – although nothing really to write home about – were at least worth shouting about instead, as a couple of new ditties ensured a sing-along from the audience.

OK. So flips and tricks here may be kept to a strict minimum, and there are occasions where the show hits the buffers. Nevertheless, there’s still enough steam left in Webber’s 18-year-old musical to keep it puffing along for some time to come.

Run ends Sat 14