Belle's Domain
Starlight Express

The Race is On!

Starlight Express is one of the most spectacular shows in the world. With an entire cast on roller-skates and a gravity-defying stage set, it's also one of the most technically advanced too! Dave Coombs went backstage to find out how this amazing show is put together.

Each breathtaking performance of Starlight Express is packed with thrilling action, stunning lighting effects and pulsing tunes. But, while the actors make the roller-skating look a breeze, it's not as easy as it looks. "You can never relax during a performance because every single show is different and you never know what's going to happen next," Says Barry McNiell (Bobo). "And Because we're all on skates, we have to concentrate much harder than actors in any other shows."

The Story of Starlight Express is a magical fantasy about trains, who love to race! And so the Show's young stars all have to be able to sing, act and dance- while skating at top speed!
Long before the actors arrive at London's Apollo Victoria Theatre, preparations for this evening's performance begin. Lorna Nathan is the show's wardrobe mistress, and it's her job to ensure that the futuristic costumes are always in perfect condition.
As Well as repairing any damage to the costumes during each show, this also means washing and drying each costume, every day! "There are 24 skaters onstage but, because some people wear several costumes during each performance, we get through 40 costumes per show," adds Lorna. That's a lot of Laundry!
To Complement the show's spectacular costumes, the actors wear dramatic Make-up. "It takes me about 25 mins to do the make-up for Dinah, the Dining Carriage" explains Danni Kearsley-Wooller.

"We use Grease-paint, which is thicker than ordinary make-up, because it doesn't budge once you put it on," says Barry McNiell, who plays the role of Bobo. "Everyone gets quite sweaty during the show, so we wear make-up that won't come off," he explains.

Putting on the costumes is quite a challenge. "After my body-suit, I put on shoulders, arm-bands, knee-pads, elbow-pads, gloves, gauntlets, a flashing backpack and a collar," laughs Chris Copeland, who plays Electra the Electric Engine.

The actors all need a hand to get into their elaborate outfits. Irene Warren will play Pearl, one of the show's starring roles, at this evening's performance. "I usually play Dinah, so it can get a bit confusing," she smiles. "I have to consciously stop myself from singing the wrong lines, but it keeps me alert!"

To enhance the illusion that the actors are playing railway carriages during the show, elaborate wigs are worn. "There are 11 wigs in the show and they are each styled after every performance," states wig-master Harald Ball-Weber. "The wigs get a bit out of shape when the actors skate at 50kph," Harald explains. And so the multi-coloured creations are washed, using a special shampoo, and set in rollers!
Skate Technician Neil Copley not only has to check that the skates and their moving parts are in perfect working order every night, he also has to paint them!
"Each character has its own colour scheme. So, when an actor plays a different role, I have to re-spray their skates," Neil Copley explains. He usually spray-paints four or five pairs of skates each day, but recalls: "On one particularly bad day, I had to spray 13 pairs!"
The Actors put their skates on in a room underneath the stage, which means they have to get up the staircase on wheels!

The actors perform Starlight Express on one of the most spectacular stage sets ever created. As well as the steeply-banked central arena, there are swooping race tracks that extend into and around the theatre's auditorium!

One of the Set's most dramatic elements is the six-tonne steel bridge. During the show's high-speed races, the bridge lifts and tilts to connect the various levels of the set. This means the actors can start racing on a track in the stalls and end up in the dress circle!

The bridge is controlled by computer, but deputy master carpenter Mike Barry keeps a close eye on it, using these monitors, during the show to make sure nothing goes wrong.

The vast set and its moving parts takes up a lot of space backstage. This means that there isn't much room in the wings- so, Amy Field (Wrench) keeps carefully to one side as Chris Copeland (Electra) and Irene Warren (Pearl) prepare to skate onstage.
Although rare, accidents do sometimes occur. "From time to time, everyone falls over," says Irene Warren. "In fact, on my opening night I had a fall during a scene where I only have four lines to say. Luckily I fell in a nice sitting position, so I just stayed there and hoped that people wouldn't notice!

(c) The Funday Times