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Interview with Gemma Atkins and Kristofer Harding from Starlight Express: The 3rd Dimension.
February 2007

Starlight Express: The 3rd Dimension promo image
Gemma Atkins and Kristofer Harding image

Gemma Atkins and Kristofer Harding


It’s not often that the opportunity comes along to chat to a couple of trains and not be ridiculed. So when the opportunity does arise, it would be churlish not to grab it with both hands. That one of the trains is a little Rusty, whereas the other is an extremely attractive Pearl, makes the task even more pleasurable.


Andrew Lloyd Webber’s smash hit musical, Starlight Express, broke all manner of box office records during its original 18 year run in London’s West End and now, a completely re-vamped version is set to hit the Liverpool Empire stage from February 6th to February 24th and promises a full steam ahead night of action, love and adventure for all the family.

In a child’s dream, a racing tournament takes place on a model railway with engines from all over the world competing. In the yards lives Rusty, a steam engine who dreams of winning the Big Race but who is slow and old-fashioned by modern standards. Rusty falls in in love with Pearl, but when he asks her out she turns him down. What ensues is a series of spectacular races, as the weak battle the strong and the underdog aims for the prize, with a little help from the magical Starlight Express.
Taking the lead roles are relative newcomers to the stage, Kristofer Harding and Gemma Atkins and both are excited to be at The Empire. ‘I’m lucky enough to have played here two or three years ago in Grease,’ Gemma explained. ‘This though is something else again. Stamina-wise Grease was tough but this is an absolute killer. We had two weeks of skate school to build the stamina levels up and to get the basics right, then had to introduce some of the chorography. So from learning to go in straight lines and just about managing to bank around corners, we had to develop skils that see us spinning and high-kicking, pretty quickly.’

‘Everything we do on stage is live,’ Kris added. ‘When we come to a break in the show that requires one of us to sing solo, it means we can’t be out of breath. We’re given scheduled holidays and, even then whilst the show is running, we have to maintain our fitness levels. It’s pretty hard but its more than worth it because Starlight is such a great show to be in.’

So can audiences who have seen Starlight Express before expect anything new this time around? ‘Because of the very nature of the show, there is always something different,’ Kris said. ‘The good thing about it is that, because its been running for so many years, it gets updated regularly. Songs get changed, numbers get changed, characters get moved and this time around we have a 3-D element thrown in. The whole thing is a lot tighter now because it’s a got whole lot quicker.’

Playing such demanding roles is totally new to both actors and Kristofer has only recently graduated from stage school. ‘This is my first job since graduating and I couldn’t have wished for a better start to my career. I watched the show in Leicester over Christmas and though “Goodness me, they’re a bit good”. I then realised that this was what I’d been rehearsing for, to get it to a level that makes everything look so easy. Even though we know the actors are on skates – and even when you’re a part of it – you forget, because it really is mesmerising what the cast achieve at times.’
So are either of them interested in performing the show on ice as has been done in years gone by? ‘I’d give it a go, but I’d be wary of losing fingers and things on the blades,’ Gemma laughed.

Gemma’s character, Pearl, is the sexiest girl on the scene. She's young, beautiful yet a bit slow when it comes to what truly matters. She has only one goal and that is to find the best of the best, until eventually realising Rusty has been the one for her all along. ‘Hopefully, Pearl is very different from me as a person and its really nice to be able to be somebody so unusual. She also gets a lot of good songs and a lot of good skating scenes, too, which is a bonus. Once you get the costume and the make up on, you feel a totally different person anyway and she’s just amazing to play. To be able to show people how much you love doing your job is fantastic.’

One thing that is evident from talking to them is that neither actor feels the need to over-hype the show and that both are genuinely excited to be in it. ‘It’s impossible not to get enthusisatic about it,’ Kris said. ‘Everything about it is just so fast and bright and every show is different in as much as you never know whether you’ll go on stage and fall flat on your face or make someone else to trip up or anything. You have to be on it all the time and so focussed its almost impossible for the audience not to get excited in return.’

There are some new numbers in the show as well as the classics that have made it such a huge hit across the world, though some have been given a touch of updated gloss. ‘Some people will recognise the influences the songs have received from bands such as Destiny’s Child and The Pussy Cat Dolls in style, whereas some older productions may have drawn from The Spice Girls, for instance,’ Gemma explained. ‘Young children will love it and adults will love it because there is such a huge cross-section of music in the show. Country and Western, Blues, Hip-hop, Rock … everything.’

Rusty the Steam Engine is the show’s main protagonist. Everybody mocks him because they say steam can’t win the big race, but not everybody knows about the magical train that can make wishes come true. ‘Rusty’s journey is very emotional throughout,’ Kris said. ‘He’s got a lot more human quality about him than some of the other characters and needs something people can relate to, rather than just being a bloke dressed as a train. I get a lot of the ballads and have a lot of thought processes going on. In comparison, the character of Dinah, for example, is very much a Country and Western girl with everything that goes with it and that’s why the show works so well. Each character has their own genre of music and each character has their own unique personality.’

In their limited time off, both Kristofer and Gemma are looking forward to taking in the rapidly developing city, with both citing shopping as major “must do” activity.
‘I’m really looking forward to seeing how Liverpool has changed since I was here last,’ Gemma said. ‘We really couldn’t have picked a better time to play here if we’d planned it. With the city celebrating its eight-hundredth aniversary and still gearing up for the Capital of Culture Year, we’re sure to get the best of both parties.’

Starlight Express runs at The Empire Theatre, Liverpool, from Tuesday February 6th to Saturday February 24th 2007. To book tickets, telephone 0870 606 3536 or visit the Website at www.livenation.co.uk

  
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