Belle's Domain


Christine van Emst gets her ticket to ride and meets fellow fans of the high speed trains which always run on time
She's got her skates on and has her eye on a part in her favourite musical one day: Jenny in her Starlight Express Pearl costume.

As rail companies struggle to get back on the right track, a group of trains at a Victoria 'depot' have been applauded for their enduring, brilliant performance.

These machines always run on time at full speed and have a massive following. They are, of course the railway trains from the hit musical Starlight Express at the Apollo Victoria Theatre, which notched up its 7,000th performance last week (9th Jan. 2001) - and that special show attracted a hard core of Starlight fans.

One Couple see the show every wedding anniversary: in fact, in all Chris and Gordon Clarke have seen it over 40 times, and they are a couple who met on a visit to another Andrew Lloyd Webber long-running musical, Cats.

At most performances there aare usually about 20 fans who watch the show in costume. And one ardent fan, Jenny Perry, 15, was there in costume- complete with roller skates - at the 7000th performance.

Jenny had left her home in Carshalton Beeches and dressed as her favourite character from the show, Pearl, an observation car.

She has seen Starlight Express 105 times since she was 13 years old and she now has her own costume complete with an amazing pink wig. After so many visits she has also mastered the make-up.

Her fanaticism has fuelled her ambition. She is truly starstruck. She attends Laine Theatre Arts school in Epsom three times a week where she is tutored in dance, acting and singing, as well as attending Wallington High School fr Girls and is taking her GCSEs this year. (Next year, act...)

What is the appeal of Starlight Express?

She explains: "It made such a massive first impression. The music is great, but it's the races and the speed of the show that is so exciting. I just think it's fantastic. I love it."

Needless to say, she knows all the songs, and after watching over 100 performances she is in step with the choreography as well.

Front cover: The Real Thing: Marissa Dunlop as Pearl and Chris Copeland as Electra.

Since its opening in 1984 the choreography by Arlene Philips has remained stunning. The show has picked up speed and the entire creative team came together to reproduce the show for a new generation. Since the Eighties some songs have been cut and new ones added.

The Lyrics by Richard Stilgoe are witty, saucy aand simple. The magic of this unconventional musical stems from breathing life into railway engines, carriages and trucks. The costumes and stage design are spectacular.

I've seen the show three times, once in the Eighties, once in the Nineties, and now at the 7,000th performance in the new millennium.

The last one I admit had an extra zest that made me want to cheer the engines on, and almost twist my head off my neck following the races that are on three levels, running round and through the auditorium.

Meanwhile Jenny is planning her next trip with her fellow fans. But how does she afford these theatre excursions?

"A lot of my pocket money goes on the show, but we get standing tickets sometimes for just 8. The Apollo have also given us complimentary tickets at times.

"I usually go to the show with four friends, they dress up as well as other engines. We all have our favourites."

Jenny thought last week's show was one of the best. "The cast all seemed to be waning to give that little bit extra to make it a special night."

If you've never seen Starlight Express then get your skates on and book a trip. It's energetic, vibrant, colourful with enough catchy tunes to get you tapping your feet and it really is the fastest show on earth.

Watch out for Jenny Perry too.

She said "I'm 16 later this year and I'm all set to audition for a part in Starlight."

Watch out, Pearl, someone's after your roller skates!

She is doubtless encouraged by the fact that six members of the current cast all trained at Laine Theatre Arts - Kate Alexander, who plays Wrench, a Repair Truck; Lisa Joanne Cook (Spare Carriage); Emma Dodd (Joule, A Dynamite Truck); Samantha Lane (Spare Carriage); Chellie Michaels (Buffy, A Buffet Car); and Richard Twyman (Spare Engine.)

Starlight Express was at the Apollo Victoria Theatre, 17 Wilton Road, Victoria, London, Monday-Saturday 7.45pm, matinees Tuesday and Saturday at 3pm. Box Office: 020 7416 6070.