Keep this train moving along

Scene from "Stop The Train",  the new musical by Rick Guard and Phil Rice (photo: BHPhotographic)
Scene from "Stop The Train", the new musical by Rick Guard and Phil Rice (photo: BHPhotographic)
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This train stopped at Preston station for one night only. But what a journey it was!

The roller coaster of a musical offered both the shock of the new and the kind of memorable production numbers which have the audience clamouring for more.

There was fear and joy, laughter and tension, unexpected plot twists and turns and much musical variety, as well as delighting dance a-plenty in this at times captivating and always entertaining production.

The performance was both a showcase for the talents of its creators and their energetic and accomplished cast and a thought provoking plea for better person to person communication in our age of IT and social media.

The opening anthem “There must be more to life than this” set the scene for the unravelling of the life stories and hopes of a disparate group of commuters trapped in a rail carriage.

Numbers such as ‘10 Steps To Being Famous’ and ‘In My Country’ brought laughter, whilst ‘The Straw That Broke The Camel’s Back’ had more of a Threepenny Opera feel.

Keith Flood commanded centre stage as the aggravating and aggravated Eric Molton and gave a memorable performance as he skilfully micromanaged the commuters’ most unexpected day.

Love interest came in many guises, with Megan Pearl Spencer a manipulative Chloe and Jack Bradley her selfish ex. Katy Oliver too gave a most memorable and entertaining in your face interpretation of her role as beautician in search of a different life.

Each of the 14 strong cast brought different strengths to the show. The dancers - Laura Frost, Milly Wardle, Lucie Palfreyman and Alice Flegg - also featured in powerful backdrop videos which were evocative and at times scene stealing.

Amy Forrest delivered some wonderful lines and words of wisdom as Ilya Amenkina whilst John F. Doull as Bartholomew Kingston certainly had secrets to share.

Robbie Southworth as Rhodri Griffiths fought his demons and came up smiling and on song. There was even room for repeated cameo appearances of a station announcer - none other than Russell Grant of astrology and Strictly fame.

Applause also greeted the walk on finale role of PNE footballer Josh Brownhill, whose appearance gave the local audience another reason to cheer. Perhaps most satisfying for a Lancastrian audience is the fact this new musical is such a home grown creation.

Written by Rick Guard and Phil Rice, (Runshaw College alumni both), and directed by Owen Phillips, (the founding director of Clitheroe based theatre company Ribcaged productions), the production is now going on its own journey as it accelerates towards its ambition of a West End booking.

Rick and Phil, originally from Chorley and Leyland, but now based in Ribchester and Chorley respectively, have a track record both as performers and platinum selling songwriters.

A musical is, of course, the sum of many talents. Additional musical arrangement comes from Alan Gregson, with choreography by Lindsay Pollard and costume design by Haldis Stephenson and Roxanne Halenko.

The programme proclaims unambiguously that this is a production which is evolving and is also seeking funding. But even at this stage the Charter Theatre audience was handsomely entertained and thrilled by the sheer exuberance and vitality of this well staged production.

The train stops at the Thwaites Empire, Blackburn on October 17, Oswaldtwisle Civic Theatre and Arts Centre on November 13 and Todmorden Hippodrome on December 12. Catch it while you can.

Stop The Train

Charter Theatre, Preston

More To Life Productions in association with Ribcaged Productions

REVIEW BY FIONA FINCH