Starlight Express,

 New Theatre,


Until December 29.

Call 01865 320760 to book

THE hardest-working actors in theatreland must surely be the cast of Starlight Express. Not only do they sing their hearts out, dance with enviable skill and act convincingly... but they do all of this on a pair of roller skates.

Quite where you find performers accomplished in all three disciplines {ital}and{ital} capable of skating backwards up a quarterpipe, I really don’t know. I can only imagine there’s a park somewhere in London where Starlight wannabes skate around in circles, perfecting their glides and turns, waiting to be spotted. Or a stage school where all the pupils must pass their skating proficiency test, like others learn to ride a bike.

Certainly, these things and more crossed my mind as I sat through the slow opening section of the show, wondering quite when the story would become apparent (and secretly wishing for someone to fall over to liven things up).

Thankfully, after the first half-hour of character introductions, the pace picked up rapidly and, from then on in, the evening became a thrilling roller-coaster ride.

Starlight Express is a Lloyd Webber creation from the mid-80s, which ran for 18 years in the West End. A Cinderella tale, it tells of lowly toy steam engine Rusty, who dares to take on the flash and might of Electra the electric engine and Greaseball the diesel loco in a race around their owner’s bedroom.

The outcome is predictable, but the route to the finishing line is dotted with exciting dance-skate sequences and lively songs, plus of course the inevitable romance.

Kristofer Harding is loveable as the underdog and steals the show (and a few hearts) with his powerful performance of the title track, Starlight Express, but the gold medal for skating goes to Mykal Rand as Electra for his lighting spins.

When the show launched in London in 1984, a revolutionary track was built out into the auditorium to bring the chases to the audience. In Oxford, this is cleverly achieved with the use of 3D film – the audience is instructed to put on their ‘safety goggles’ before each race and the action literally heads right for them.

If you fancy a break from panto this Christmas, Starlight is an exciting alternative. Just be patient through the opening numbers and marvel at what talented men and women can do on four wheels. - MICHELLE TOMPKINS