Belle's Domain

Starlight Express - UK tour 2004-05

23rd February 2005 - Bristol

Matinee and Evening performances.

First impressions of the Bristol Hippodrome was "My, what a steep rake for the stalls!" and "Oh, they've put a roll of padding round the edge of the stage. That's gonna stop people falling off..." and "whoa, the angle of that track... the stalls are REALLY steep!" I'm sure the ramp into the audience was shorter than in Manchester too, comprising of two sections where I think there are in total three. Calling it a Ramp previously was perhaps misleading, as it had been more or less flat, however in Bristol it was at a fairly steep incline. It's a lovely old theatre with a nautical theme, slightly unusual proportions, the proscenium arch is fairly low, making the stage seem much wider.
On entering the theatre there were oh-so-professional looking computer print-outs blu-tacked to the walls, announcing the understudies. *10* understudies. They have the domino effect, as Caboose was on for Electra, Purse was on for Caboose, and a swing was on as Purse. If the electra understudy was a swing, there'd have been one understudy, not three!
Before the show started, one of the smaller screens was showing a loop of film of a model railway, with many lingering, steamy shots of engines and carriages coupling! this sort of train PORN is not appropriate for a family show!!! *lol*

We saw both performances on Wednesday, the matinee was quite a breakfast show- a lot of the show didn't seem to flow, and the audience weren't really involved. It all semed very static. The evening show, hoever, was signed for the deaf, which meant there was a signer standing at the edge of the stage, narrating the words in sign-language. It was fascinating, and quite beautiful to watch him!
My pet interest, of course, is the costumes, and my god, WHAT a mess they are in... they just look so BAD! Totally un-cared for. Just little things like threads hanging off, up to the main flaws in the design and fittings, it's all not good! Come on, PLEASE, get your act together and look after these costumes! This cast, the show deserves better! Speaking of costumes, the understudies on seemed to all be wearing the costumes in the US 2 tour brochure. Which makes me think, are the 1st cast UK costumes the ones worn by understudies on the US tour, spruced up a bit?
Also, Hip Hopper 3's tags include the tag "Alw"... nice. But not very cryptic!

The sound in the overture/intro of the Nationals has been padded out with some gorgeously 80s sounds! really fabulous! However, poor Ruhrgold seems so lonely skating onstage on his own. As there are ten Greaseball's Gang waiting backstage, why can they not get four of them to skate down with the Nationals, carrying their corresponding flags? It's a small touch that would simply flesh out the show, give added interest visually. It works without flag-bearers, but would be that much better to have them!

I'm coming to like "Whole Lotta", as a song, but I don't like what it says about the girls as characters. They're so shallow! What is the point of "He'll Whistle At Me" being in the show? It's a total Revaism - making nothing but Pearl matter in the show. Not true. Part of the strength of StEx is that it is such an ensemble piece, all the principal roles, Rusty, Poppa, Electra, Greaseball, Pearl, Dinah, (and Caboose in the full show), are all equally important!

During the matinee, slight hiccup in Freight, the music skipped the second part of the Hoppers' intro, the "The only time we get sick inside..." bit was over-ridden by Control announcing Flat-top. oops.

Another interesting point to a costumer in AC/DC - when Electra flies in, unsurprisingly, his flying harness isn't over his full leather belt. Instead he has a flat, quilted belt patterned with the silver wingnut front, and he changes into his real belt during Pumping Iron. I loved the way the flying harness was removed - Wrench took it off Elok, and took it behind the screen and handed it to Ashley, who took it into the wings. One issue about Elok's flying in tho, as he lands he spends several seconds fumbling out of the harness, while his ponents crowd around him. Why don't they undo the buckles, while he poses in character?

I noticed a slight change in Pumping Iron - Greaseball didn't actually skate over the girls, rather went behind them. I suspect the steep incline of the ramp might be something to do with it?

I LOVE the Pyros! Greaseball's entrance for Pumping Iron, sparks shooting from his skates as he comes down the bowl, and before Coda Freight, electra shoots sparks into the air, magnificent! I hope they get incorporated into the Bochum show!

One of the reasons the show doesn't seem to flow is the odd little insertions, like the intro to Crazy. Rather than Rusty saying "What's the matter Pearl, don't ya wanna race with the fastest engine in the world?" He asks "What's the matter Pearl?" and she considers, and thoughtfully replies "Well, I don't know, Rusty!" Means what should be a bright and snappy introduction becomes a laboured dialogue. It slows the pace where it needs to pick up.

One of those little details that hasn't been directed is Purse eavesdropping on Rusty and Pearl after he invites her to race with Electra. The show works without it, but if it were added it gives so much more to Purse! Why deprive him of the characterisation?

I may be warming to "Whole Lotta", but I am NOT learning to appreciate The Rap! Apart from oh, about 8 bars of Pearl's solo, following "Wanna boil with the oil, or lose with the fuse?" which has nice, but repetitive choreography. The whole song just rambles along, there's no structure, no movement to it. And entirely too much movement within the cast- they keep buggering off backstage! It's like trying to keep a school class sitting down, they keep disappearing off, and having to be herded back onstage. And as soon as one group are back, another group have slipped away. I know it's a small stage, but it's not THAT small. It's quite possible to have everyone onstage!

The most jarring point of the performances we saw was where "Wide Smile, High Style" SHOULD have been. This was particularly bad given the hugely charismatic Caboose understudy! He was about to leap into song, only the music didn't do it... The whole first half of act 2 is seriously trunkated, missing Girls' Rolling Stock (although I must admit that Purse coming in at the end of UNCOUPLED does flow well), Wide Smile, and then no uphill Final. The Uphill Final sequence totally fails to work! It makes no sense. here's what happens...
~ Caboose tells Greaseball that Rusty's fast and might win.
~ Greaseball and Caboose agree to beat him up at the start of the race.
~ Having morphed into cartoon, Greaseball and Caboose beat up Rusty in 10 seconds at the start of the race, during the countdown when the audience is fumbling for their 3D glasses, not realising they don't need them.
~ Greaseball threatens Rusty. Rusty says "You told the Marshalls I drove into you!" err... no driving involved, no marshalls involved, no racing involved. Coiuntdown doesn't get below 16.
~ Greaseball's Gang beat up Rusty AGAIN, Caboose watching.
~ Pearl comes in and goes "I'll go tell the marshalls!" Caboose gloats.
~ They all bugger off, apart from Flat-top who tries to be nice, but Caboose glowers at him.
The only logic with all this is that Caboose tells Greaseball what he's up to, NOT Electra, so when Dinah dumps Electra, he doesn't know not to trust Caboose as a race partner... always seems strange that Electra and Caboose spend a whole song scheming about Caboose wiping out the competition, then Electra thinks racing himself with Caboose is a good idea?

Another bit of direction that isn't there is in One Rock'n'Roll Too Many. Everyone's onstage, but they just leave as the train wreck appears onstage. ok, you don't NEED everyone onstage for the number, but it adds so much more when they are there! The background interaction, the visual interest, the added humiliation for the three characters... Why not have it? Why have the show as bare as possible? Starlight Express is hardly a minimalist production!!!

WHO wrote this version of "Only He"? I don't think they stopped and thought for a moment about what those pretty words mean, in context. Such as Rusty calling Pearl "You are my Starlight" - err... no, the Starlight was actually Poppa. Or he is his own character who happens to strongly resemble Poppa, whichever you believe. It was certainly NOT Pearl! Really! Also the writer didn't seem to twig that Rusty can sing "Only She", he doesn't need to sing "Only You" all the time. and really, "she" is a prettier sound to hold a long note than "you". I really don't get why they re-wrote this song at all tho, as the version used in germany as "Du Allein" is pretty much perfect!

Another irritating little cut, they've removed the educational merit to stEx in the form of the 1st verse of "Light At The End Of The Tunnel"- ie, the James Watt verse. why cut it? And why cut so much of the stationary choreography? I appreciate that changes had to be made to compensate for the lack of tracks, but really, I don't think that taking characters into the wings instead is a good substitute!

CAST

Rusty -
James Gillan.
James Gillan is the sweetest little Rusty! He's a wonderful performer, his reactions were perfect, particularly during the Starlight Sequence. It's impossible not to feel for the poor little steam train!
Poppa -
Gavin Ashbarry
Having seen Gavin play Poppa in Bochum, I already knew what a fantastic voice he has... and how VERY scary his Poppa is! Although he hada crazy grey wig, he didn't wear the round glasses he had in Bochum, which made his appearance a bit less scary. Weekday matinees are usually amusing, and Gavin referring to Rusty as Dustin caused amusement! Otherwise he's a fine singer, and a charismatic (if insane!) Poppa.
Greaseball-
Tom Kanavan
Ohh, yeah. He is beautiful! Tom is an excellent Greaseball, the self-importance, the confidence, disregard for anyone else. He's just excellent!
Electra -
Grant Murphy
I was intrigued how Grant was going to understudy Mykal Rand's unique characterisation of Electra. He was very different - reminded me very much of Woody's Electra before he moved to Bochum. Some wonderful characterisations, stamping in anger as his components deserted him in Pumping Iron, his expressions in Dinah's Disco. Very amusing to watch! Now, all he needs is Woody's german makeup design... his face did get washed out in the bright lighting. Better as Electra than as Caboose.
Pearl -
Jane Horn
Jane's Pearl is a well-rounded character, well performed, and a perfectly valid interpretation of the role... I just find her a far less attractive character compared to other interpretations! I accept that Jane does play Pearl well, it's just hard to like her.
Dinah -
Tanya Robb
She's just such a sweet Dinah! The perfect ditzy, adoring blonde girlfriend for the big man. She's cute, bubbly, vivacious, and wearing such a goddammawful costume!!! PLEASE. in 30 minutes I could make it look so much better. She deserves to look better onstage!
Ashley-
Ruthie Stephens
Ruthie is an excellent mimic, her Ashley is Amy Field in the next size down! Beautiful bits of characterisation, like before the race, stubbing out her cigarette on Turnov's hand, and her background interaction, so in character. Also she wore the US tour costume.
Buffy -
Lucinda Gill
Very good, sweet and simple Buffy. Young, bubbly, squeaky, bouncy character, very likeable!
Hip Hopper 1 - Johnny Shentall GET over yourself, man. You're not famous, you're not special. You're not even playing Greaseball, where such an ego could be explained as a character trait. He doesn't work with the other Hoppers, not part of a team, not a great skater... He doesn't earn his place in the show.
Hip Hopper 2 - Tyman Boatwright Good performance, for what he's asked to do. Lively, energetic, makes the most of his role.
Hip Hopper 3 - Tony Andrade Confident performance, no way of guessing the understudy! Managed to be fairly convincingly in character as a Hip Hop follower... had quite a lot of character.
Flat-top - Paul Christopher Ahhh, SO FUNNY! What a clown! Loved his and Dustin's copying the Hoppers, and their funny dances, his training his brick to come to heel - it didn't... wonderful fun to watch whenever he was onstage!
Dustin - Jamie Capewell It was lovely to see Jamie C onstage again! His Dustin was comparatively fairly deep-thinking, but SO funny in the background, jumping and dancing about! Shame about his costume tho, really seemed to be made out of pillows.

Star of the show!
Caboose - Matthew Boulton Matthew Boulton's Caboose was FANTASTIC! And shiny. But mainly fantastic! Oh, he was a two-faced evil bastard, even without a solo he was dangerous. And a lovely voice, for the lines he does get to sing! His Electrical background was obvious in his makeup- traditional Caboose pattern, with glittery silver nose, and red and silver eyes, and red glitter lips. But it's for making Caboose a real, full Caboose character with so little material that he gets the Star of the Show award!
Trax -
Matt King
I still fail to get Trax. He's a fine skater, yes! No arguments. but he spends so little time onstage, and he has such a cheap, ugly costume (rather baggy unitard with a few gang-esque patches sewn on) very little effort has gone into incorporating him into the show. However he does make an effort- highly amusing to watch the nationals beating him up during Pumping Iron!
Trax 2/Brit-
Andrew Millar
Andrew Millar's an experienced skater, but as Trax 2 he didn't do any stunts. But as Princey he was hilarious! swooping around as if drunk, messing up in the background, so funny! Interestingly he showed his Bochum training in the intro to AC/DC, as the power cuts out, he flopped as the german cast do, but no-one else has been told to in UK tour.
Ruhrgold -
Jake Samuels
Very amusing german engine! He really seemed to be enjoying himself in the show, which made him very watchable, played to the audience loads too.
Turnov -
Chris Thatcher
Some nice character moments, interacting with Ashley, joking about, making me laugh!
Nintendo -
Philippe Reynolds
Least charismatic of the Nationals, but some great kung-fu in Buffy's face! With the other Nationals, very amusing to watch! Very good solid performance.
Purse -
James Marshall
He was shiny... Nice voice, and did everything he was asked to. Rather bland character, but reliable and good as an understudy. The strange echo effects on his voice seemed to throw his timing a bit.
Wrench -
Carla Pullen
She was wearing the US tour costume- ie. stripe on leggings. Aggressive character, no-one dared laugh at the bell on the end of this girl's crane!
Joule -
Danielle-Leigh Morris
She's very bendy! Why does Joule introduce herself first in AC/DC? Nice character, especially in the beginning of Pumping Iron. she doesn't get many other chances!
Volta -
Lauren Brooke
Quite an ice-queen! I wish she had more stage time, and a new costume... Lauren does as much as she can in such a limited role!