Stop The Train
Rick Guard & Phil Rice
More To Life Productions
Charter Theatre, Preston
This Lancashire born-and-bred musical—set in a railway carriage—is currently on a county-wide tour but with mainline ambitions that could very well see it head all the way to London.
And on this showing there’s every reason to believe that’s not an idea above its station.
Stop The Train is very witty, occasionally macabre, always entertaining, but above all it’s highly original.
Six people are trapped in a compartment by a character with apparently deadly intent. So this is no quiet carriage, but one where the passengers shed their life stories, their inhibitions, and in one spectacular scene, even most of their clothes!
The mix of comedy and drama sometimes makes for a bumpy ride but the characterisation and interaction is strong and credible. Director Owen Phillips makes the most of a stripped-down set design and constantly alters the stage perspective to highlight the individual narratives and open up their song and dance numbers.
Penned by the writing team of Rick Guard, who hails from Chorley, and Phil Rice, it’s also the subject of a forthcoming Channel 4 documentary about a fledgling musical and its crowd-sourcing style of funding.
All of which should also put a cast of more than a dozen professional and semi-professional performers in the spotlight, and do their individual CVs no harm at all. And there are some strong voices among them. Preston’s Megan Pearl Spencer and Blackpool’s Jack Bradley may have been playing to an essentially home crowd but their power ballad duet "Damaged" is one of several stand-out songs in the show, while Katy Oliver’s "10 Steps To Being Famous" blesses her with one of the best of the character melodies and a role that highlights her acting abilities.
It may all be running on a budget ticket right now but there’s nothing cheap-day about its style or ambition. The neatly synchronised back projection, that occasionally features Russell Grant as an inevitably camp railway guard, underlines this show’s firm intent to go places. There’s even a cameo appearance by Preston North End’s Josh Brownhill!
Two intervals is an operatic extravagance, especially when the first is served by such a show-stopping number as "Showgirl", but at this stage in the production’s life it’s the raw energy of its performance that should power it all the way to deserved success. There are three more opportunities to catch the Train around the region... and say you saw it first!
Reviewer: David Upton