The whole show has a feeling of great optimism about it. Perhaps this is all informed by my own opinions, but whereas the last tour felt like a stripped down, chopped short, sad, apologetic little remnant of something once great, this one feels like the start of something good (I can feel my heart is jumping, this could be the start of something....). Like it's a scaled down preview of a production planned to be mounted at the O2.
The opening animation is cute, but being a visible figure of 8, limited. It is somewhat reminiscent of the special effects in Hitch Hikers, but messier – someone had a lot of fun with the Find All Edges tool, in this and other animations. I'm not convinced it wasn't overkill to have some sort of video playing pretty much 90% of the time, though. Some of it was relevant(I liked the image of the decrepit sidings for the Freight yard), some of it was cheesy(What time is it? Time to show a gif of a sped up clock!), and some of it was just a bit Rorschach. What was the deal with the shamrock-shaped thing approaching on the tracks that always faded into nothing before it could resolve? What was with the endless circles and lens flare? Any time it was footage of an actual thing, like what looked like the view from a driver's cab somewhere in Germany(overhead power lines), was heavily treated with Find All Edges and usually quite a short loop. I couldn't quite work out what the red thing that crossed the tracks at the end was, possibly several cars? Possibly a very big fox? Either way, you can make out real life details like trees.
I don't think the foldback onto the stage was complete, as several times the timing was dodgy until a new instrument kicked in and then everyone was fine. It could have been directed rhythmic pauses, but it came across as “should I come in yet? I can't see the MD or hear the beat!”
The races are possibly the most dated thing in the show. If they could refilm them it would be good, possibly without using the exact same corridor in both heats and the final(actually, it would be nice to have the Uphill Final back too), and maybe a bit less sharply focused on the characters which makes it so very clear that these are NOT the same people you've just seen on stage. Not going to happen, of course. These ones are serviceable and they were expensive. I felt like the races were more or less completely divorced from the show.
While it was somewhat reassuring proof that at least one review was being written at the press night and not before, I do wish that the critic sitting somewhere to my right and maybe 5-6 rows back hadn't had QUITE such a loud, rattly keyboard on his laptop. Or had at least constrained himself to typing during the loud bits.
Likewise, it's great to know that the Stalls Bar turned such a huge profit tonight – perhaps the show could have been even better if it hadn't all come from a group of three or so behind me up to the left. I get that a lot of friends and family of the cast were in to support them, and indeed I saw a few familiar faces, but generally “support” does not manifest itself the same way in the theatre as it does at, say, a football match.
I like the new lights. I've been out of the loop for a while, so I don't know what they are, but they seem to be a combination of low-brightness LEDs for atmospheric purposes, and bright, focused beams for stabbing the audience in the eye. The three concentric rings of LEDs can be made to dance! They made the Starlight Sequence ever so pretty, in a Mission Impossible laser grid sort of way, even though I did have to blink rhythmicly to avoid the aforementioned eye-stabbage.
The use of flying the LX bars to simulate the Bridge was lovely, too. Even if you didn't know that's what it is, it adds a nice, interesting texture to what is essentially a black box set to allow the lighting rig to have a go at being set.
I really liked Ruthie Stephen's Dinah. She's not as battered wife as most Dinahs, so you don't get the same sense of unease when she accepts Greaseball back, and she does the Dinah Splat magnificently, especially when you consider that she doesn't have a run up from the Bowl. She's a little bit over the top, but not so much that she's not – and I beg the suspension of your disbelief for my application of this word to an anthropomorphic personification of a toy train in a child's dream – real. She draws the eye with her gestures, but not when she shouldn't, and you're never at a loss to know what Dinah's feeling.
Duvay(apparently they have spelt it that way – maybe they pronounce “duvet” as “dove-it”, as a girl I went to college with did)'s “are my pillows still there?” tickover makes a little more sense once you've seen that she removes them to race, on account of their not being in the video. They apparently come off pretty easily, so you can understand her concern that she might have lost her head-Poptarts by accident.
Flat Top didn't work for me in Act 1, but somehow he was brilliant in Act 2 without changing a thing. I think perhaps his character just needs conflict to shine. When he's refusing to race with Poppa, it just comes across as a bit nasty and makes you wonder why he's hanging around with the other Freight if he despises them so much, but his “Y'awrigh?” and “Shuh UP, Controw!” are perfect and nicely make that little bit more of his character. He didn't make much of his brick, though. It's hard to do when it's not onna chain. You can't teach it to come to heel, you can't play Swingball with it, you can't play ball inna cup with it, you can't chuck it at people and have it return... really all you're left with is talking to people on it, lending it to Dustin when he forgets his mouth organ and a really, really last resort sandwich.
Seemed at first as if Greaseball wasn't going to have an entourage – after all, there was only one flag bearer – he came on stage alone, and it was a while before the Gang came on to flank him. The choreography here looked so crisp – they must have cleaned it to within an inch of their lives.
I don't know if it's deliberate or not, but the Components didn't have any distortion on their voices. Sometimes it sounded planned, when they split the triad and sang it, but at other moments it fell flat. What is usually digital shriek near the end of Laughing Stock was more like a limp “fnah.”
Thinking of Electra, those of us who watch True Blood in this country are now used to Lafayette, so he totally makes sense. And somehow the opening of AC/DC sounds more 80s now, in 2012, than it did in 1984. I still love Joule and Volta both doing the traditional Volta choreography, mirroring each other.
I do like the new Nintendo, born of Cheezburgr. “Rusty? Who he?” after consulting (possibly) Facebook. I hope he goes on to add more Engrish.
Amanda Coutts' “Make Up My Heart” makes it look like anyone could sweep into perfect sur le coup de pied two-wheeled pirouettes if they felt like it. I r jelly.
Gavin Ashbarry is absolutely brilliant and adorable as Dustin. If I ever see him as Poppa again, I will bear this in mind to block out the trauma of how absolutely bloody terrifying he is in that role. His Dustin does not, in the least, call up unbidden memories of Professor Burp.
I can't say I like A Whole Lotta Locomotion, nor do I think I ever will, but it's certainly the best I've seen it yet. It's still cringeworthy that the old lyrics have been shoehorned into the new style, but the new lyrics work nicely. I just can't reconcile myself to the “Gotta have a man! Gotta have a sexy man! Look at me touching myself!” heart of the song. If Phantom Two was still open, would they have had to revert to A Lotta Locomotion? We know His Llordship doesn't like to have the same song in two shows open at the same time.
The ramps are still dinky, the Romeo and Juliet(The Musical) blocking remains for Coda of Freight.
I would have liked Hopper One to make more of Princey's being scrapped – it isn't entirely clear that that's who he was partnered with to race, and so had just lost out on his chance to participate.
Ah, yes. Given that we're now back to three engines in each heat, we could totes have “No Poppa, don't listen! Besides, what's the point? There's three trains in each heat. They've got all three trains, the race is complete!” instead of “No way, it's all over – the race is full up, they'll blow you away!” which I'm not even sure it still is, but y'know.
There's only so much track-checking the Traxes can do. Given that it's the same configuration of ramps each time, and you do see the same identifiable bits of abandoned Welsh missile silo in every race, you do wonder if they can't just say it's good from the last race. Actually, given the train corpses, German engine hoping for a lift, falling masonry and rodent infestations, maybe they do just sign off the paperwork without looking.
If Ruhrgold gets stuck trying to thumb a lift out of race-Purgatory, how does Duvay get back out of there? Does she have the sense he doesn't to double back and leave via the starting line or something?
It feels a bit weird hearing the What Time Is It? Rap. I don't know why, but I wasn't expecting it. It's the one time the Hip Hoppers are Hip Hoppers as they were written, not just re-costumed Rockies with their tickovers confiscated. Mind you, lyrics like “If he's fastest, he wins! If he's slower, he loses!”...
I like how Girl's rolling Stock has been entirely re-choreographed using only moves from actual Rolling Stock – it's like the polar opposite of Whole Lotta. They're kinda taking the piss out of the engines, but also showing that they can do the same as them and not be gratuitously oversexualised while they're at it.
The Traxes do somewhat steal the Hoppers' thunder for Right Place Right Time. Given as wot they ARE stunt skaters, it's understandable that the Hoppers aren't doing tricks that are quite as impressive as them – even though they're doing stuff you know you would ooh and aah at if you saw someone do it in a dance-off. A triple spin is something I can only dream of doing, but when you've seen Electra casually chaine across the stage on two wheels from each foot, it's not as awesome.
The absence of “Wide Smile” is palpable. Like how in the last London production the “I must find Pearl”s accelerated into the opening of “No Comeback” and then died off again, “Wide Smile” is about to start, then it sounds like they all remember at the last second that it's been cut so um, yeah, moving on.
Oh yes - “The sound's too loud” is a GREAT time for your mic to go dead.
During But I do, I made out several smiley faces in the star field behind the stage, two of which were poker face faces
), studied the reflection coming off the “safety goggles” resting on top of someone's head a few rows in front of me, counted the domed houselights I could see, cackled like a banshee at the We Will Rock You moment(which could legitimately be inserted into the Megamix reprise of the song to give it some rhythm, but in the main one? It's just random) and realised that in fact, both of my feet were numb. The left one was slightly pins-and-needly, on account of being crossed over the right above the knee. I did not, even though I had about a week to do so, work out what the melody's past incarnations were. At this point, having a looped video on the screens would have been a Good Thing. Perhaps an “I can't fight this fee-LANG any more” style photo montage.
Overall, the cast are amazing, the show feels like it's starting something big. It no longer deserves to be called Starlite. I have realised that the word “update” is not necessarily a dirty one, though wholly new songs are rarely an improvement. As ever, Mykal Rand is a genius and has drawn it all together into a more cohesive whole than it has had a chance to be in a while. I really hope my gut's onto something when it tells me that this is the precursor to a post-Olympic big production. There'll be a velodrome going spare...