IN the 25 years that I have been reviewing plays, musicals and music theatre productions in Yeovil, I have constantly been amazed at the depth and range of talent in performers from this rural area of South Somerset and West Dorset … and I really didn’t think I could be more dazzled.
But that was before seeing Motiv8 at the Octagon in the Andrew Lloyd Webber Starlight Express.
It is his least performed show, but that’s only because the story about a race between trains is performed entirely by a cast on roller skates! All very well to expect trained singing actor dancers to whizz about a stage on wheels, but a whole other ball game for amateurs
Well, Motiv8 got to its current position in an unconventional way, so why let a little thing like learning to skate on an open stage where you might tip off into the audience put them off? What started as one boy’s love of carnival and entry as a walking masquerader in one of the world famous Somerset annual extravaganzas has culminated in a sensational production at the Octagon, with every seat eagerly filled for the ten-night run.
Director and choreographer Dan Warr-Extance got the first amateur licence to perform Starlight Express – another first for Yeovil.
The show is a sort of super-hero train tale of a railway-obsessed little boy whose dream of a contest between electricity, diesel and good old steam materialises on stage. Everyone (other than the boy and his mother in the first five minutes) is on skates. Each locomotive has its backup team and there’s a girl chorus of extra-carriage wannabes to provide the love interest.
Of course you know the outcome from the start, and the music is very simple – there’s quite enough other stuff to occupy the performers! Incidentally, Starlight Express is the train of dreams, called in to help the hopeless Rusty in his time of need.
The bombastic Greaseball (Mark Extance-Warr) and the volatile Electra (Adam Ward) arrive in their pomp, quickly knocking out the competition in the early heats. When Rusty appears, his claims for the superiority of steam are ridiculed. Well we all know about the tortoise and the hare …
This extraordinary company not only had performers who learned to skate and sing, but a sewing team to make the extravagant costumes that are such a feature of the show.
It is a team effort, and there are no weak links, but outstanding performances came from the three main trains, with James Grant’s Rusty managing to inject some really poignant moments in all the vital posturing, with his beautiful voice and multi-faceted performance.
Another memorable moment came from Joe Chester as Poppa, singing his witty Blues (written by Richard Stilgoe). Felicity Keirle’s country and western U.N.C.O.U.P.L.E.D. brought the house down, as did the rap and Danielle Kennedy’s Make Up My Heart.
Young James Bamford is having fun as the psychotic Little Red Caboose in a production full of sensational moments and real rock’n’roll.
Starlight Express continues until Saturday 14th May. If you can find a ticket, don’t hesitate.
Telephone the Octagon on 01935 422884 or visit the website, www.octagon-theatre.co.uk for more information.
A couple of images of the face painting used in the show.