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Starlight Express

Lyrics by Richard Stilgoe

Music by Andrew Lloyd-Webber

The Lowry, 20 June 2012

Puzzling and perplexing, that’s the provisional judgement regarding this curious musical beast.

Lets try to work it out, the gender landscape at least.  Men are train engines and can be powered by steam, diesel and even electricity (though it has to be said that the masculinity and sexuality of the electric train is called into question since he’s ‘OK with AC/DC’); women are carriages or, when they’re especially appetizing, buffet cars.  They attach themselves to, or are ‘coupled with’ engines: that’s the only way they can move forward.  Now, doesn’t it already sound despicable?

Anyway, the engines race each other for the right to take certain carriages, that’s the story: who will win the race?  It’s a kind of courtship ritual and has most likely been going on since Stephenson’s day.

There’s also a Starlight Express entity that the engines appeal to when things don’t go their way.  They don’t pray to it exactly, because there’s no element of propitiation.  There’s instead an infantile wish or appeal, such as savages make when scrabbling about in the dirt.  At first ‘Starlight Express’ sounds like a metaphor for God, an heavenly engine of some sort, but then we learn that it’s ‘within’ – well, of course it is.  Narcissism, hippie style, fits in with the reactionary politics.

Where the show is not confused and idiotic, it is suspect.  However, one good feature was the dexterity and skill exhibited by the skaters.  Here the standard was very high.

Starlight Express is at The Lowry until 30 June, details here.