Reviews Roundup: Starlight Express

Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre, London

A line of roller-skating actors in a scene from Stalight Express at the Troubadour Theatre London
Starlight Express at the Troubadour Wembley Park. Photo: Pamela Raith

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express is back, and this time it’s a new production in The Troubadour, a warehouse-like venue that has been transformed into an immersive space. It’s the tale of a children’s train set come to life, and underdog Rusty being inspired to win a race with other engines. It may sound like a children’s show but the lively songs and roller skating cast provide plenty of adults to enjoy. Most, but not all, reviewers liked it, some loved it. It was generally agreed to be a spectacular production.

[Links to full reviews are included but a number are behind paywalls and therefore may not be accessible]

Dominic Cavendish in the Telegraph (5★) was so knocked out by this production, he saw stars, five of them. It’s a ‘head-spinning wonderland’, ‘jaw-dropping’, ‘part theme-park ride, part theatrical revolution’, he enthused, with ‘much magic and life-affirming meaning’. He ended, ‘The energy and bravura of it all are frankly out of this world.’

Paul Vale for The Stage (5★) also gave full marks: ‘(Tim) Hatley’s design is a fusion of industrial brutalism and disco chic, with a racetrack that weaves around the auditorium with ramps, tunnels and a revolve. Gabriella Slade’s sculpted costumes are a meticulously constructed mix of colourful body armour and Lycra that reflect each character.’

The Daily Mail‘s Patrick Marmion (4★) proclaimed, ‘This eyeball-scorching, ear-blasting revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s train-racing musical-on-roller-skates is an audio-visual blitzkrieg, the like of which I’ve never seen before.’ Arifa Akbar in The Guardian (4★) was impressed: ‘tailor-made for the Troubadour’s massive auditorium, it erupts like a Vesuvius of light, sound, projection and dry ice under the direction of Luke Sheppard’. The songs, she said, ‘are masterfully sung all round, alongside the athletic feats of the cast.’

The Independent‘s Tim Bano (4★) confessed, ‘It’s more spectacle than sense, an extraordinary creative onslaught, with songs about steam engines cranked out at max volume, all designed to delight your inner child – which it really does.’ He expanded, ‘Everything about it is maximalist. Tim Hatley’s set has ramps and revolves and sliding doors, costumes by Gabriella Slade turn humans into Transformers/Power Rangers/living cartoon things.’

Starlight Express is possibly one of the world’s most bizarre musicals,’ declares Aliya Al-Hassan at Broadway World (4★). Nevertheless, ‘The auditorium itself feels like being thrown into the middle of an arcade game’ and she concludes, ‘As a theatrical experience, this will make a life-long impression on many young theatre-goers’.

Marianka Swain for LondonTheatre (4★) sounded like she needed to breathe into a paper bag: ‘the actors playing trains whizzed right past me on roller skates at heart-pounding speeds. But that’s just the beginning of this mind-blowing state-of-the-art experience.’ She continued, ‘This tech-wizard production also boasts the biggest lighting rig I’ve ever seen in theatre, and a phenomenal display from Howard Hudson’ and concluded, ‘It’s an awe-inspiring stadium gig-meets-theme park ride of a show’.

The Times’ Clive Davis (4★) thought it was a great show for children: ‘The director Luke Sheppard moves things along at a gallop.’

Time Out’s Andrzej Lukowski (3 ★) admitted, it’s ‘a lot of fun and has no aspirations to be anything other than exactly what it is.’ ‘It is technically dazzling,’ he added. Dominic Maxwell in the Sunday Times (3 ★) summed up: ‘mostly catchy songs, a crack cast, choreography and design let the trains take the strain of anything so tedious as rational thought.’

There’s always someone who’ll throw leaves on the line, and on this occasion it’s Fiona Mountford at the i (2★) Among the many things she disliked was the way ‘Large video screens pump out irredeemably naff 80s-style graphics’. She was left in the sidings by the production: ‘this slick but soulless show left me none the wiser’

Critics’ Average Rating 3.9★

Value rating 38 (Value rating is the Average Critic Rating divided by the typical ticket price.)

Starlight Express is at the Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre until June 2025. Click here to buy tickets direct from Troubadour Theatres

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