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Theatre Review: Starlight Express - Edinburgh Playhouse ✭✭✭✭

Starlight Express 
Edinburgh Playhouse

Starlight Express is a show that has never rested in the sidings waiting to be overtaken by the next generation of production. The show originally opened in London in 1984, followed by New Starlight Express in 1992 then a revamped tour was launched in the 2000s featuring 3D material. This year a completely updated production with new projections and sound has been launched and is currently touring the UK arriving at Platform 1 at the Edinburgh Playhouse this week.

Written by Andrew Lloyd Webber for his children, Starlight Express begins with a shaft of light creeping across the stage representing bedroom door opening and a voiceover telling a child to put their toy trains away. As all of us who have ever continued reading under the duvet with a torch know, that's not how it always works and a whispered narration draws the audience in as the child's game continues in the darkness.

Like train chugging up a hill, the show opens slowly before accelerating into another gear as the leading trains are introduced. The performers silently swoop onto the stage, skating confidently and heralded by a flag-bearing rollerblader. Naturally the British train is late due to engineering works but at least it isn't replaced by a bus, a fate well-known to users of Britain's railways. The fourth wall vanishes as soon as the national engines are introduced and in no time at all the audience are backing their favourites. Once the trains are assembled on stage it's impossible not to be dazzled by the incredible spectacle that unfolds as they pirouette, backflip off ramps and speed around the stage.

Arlene Phillips' wonderful choreography brings the cast to within collision range before sweeping them into the next set piece. It's breath-taking to watch and the cast's hard work is evident throughout as they complete complicated dance steps on roller boots - a task that's definitely not for the faint hearted!

A good British musical needs an underdog that the audience can root for throughout to battle to overcome against all odds and in Starlight Express this is Rusty the Steam Train, played by Kristofer Harding. Rusty is up against the big boys of the train world who are powered by diesel and electricity, will he win the race and get the girl? Of course he will and that's what makes this such a heart-warming night out. Harding is superb as the overlooked Rusty and he moves constantly the whole time he is on stage. The youthful exuberance he brings to the part gives Rusty an air of adorability, used especially well during Crazy. He's like a Labrador puppy that you just want to take home with you by the end of the night. As Rusty's love interest Pearl, Amanda Coutts uses her beautiful voice effortlessly in her solos He'll Whistle At Me and Make Up My Heart. As a long-term fan of the show I wasn't entirely sold on the 2012 club remix version of He'll Whistle At Me but her vocals are faultless and her graceful skating is beautiful to watch.

Electra the electric train has a striking entrance and Mykal Rand is an extremely talented skater, commanding the audience's attention whenever he is on stage. Electra's makeup design means that Rand literally sparkles the whole time and he is the perfect foil to All American diesel train Greaseball, played by Jamie Capewell. Capewell channels his inner Elvis exquisitely, flaunting the heartthrob status that Greaseball demands.

When the full cast perform in the larger sequences it's impossible to tear your eyes away from the visual spectacle as they speed around the stage. The show has been brilliantly re-imagined for the modern audience and certainly the 3D incorporation is much more integrated now than the previous tour. As someone who saw the show in situ in London, I will always miss the ramps surrounding the theatre and the cast speeding by in the races but this incredible re-imagining is as close as it can get in a touring format  and the closing megamix is a real crowd pleaser too. Buy your ticket to ride now, you won't regret hopping onto the Starlight Express. 

4 out of 5 stars ✭✭✭✭

Starlight Express is at Edinburgh Playhouse until Saturday 14th July

Review by Lisa Davidson

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