Don't get too excited, not yet at least!
What we already knew:
- Plans for a static (non-touring) UK production
- To be located outside London
- 2017 workshop and 2018 Bochum production were staged looking towards this new UK production
- Will NOT use the set, costumes etc of previous UK tours as these no longer exist.
- Harvey Goldsmith, Producer, involved
- Location: NEC Birmingham
- "StageAround" technology - rotating audience between scenes - from Imagine Nation, originally developed for "Soldier of Orange"
- Plans halted by COVID-19
Personally, I am somewhat confused by this. Rotating the audience between scenes reminds me of Disney's "Carousel of Progress", created by Walt Disney for the 1964 World's Fair. But I can't see how this is relevant to Starlight, which typically does not actually have different sets for different scenes? The possible application would be switching to screens for the races - but why? If you're building a permanent, static production, you have the opportunity to stage live races rather than cheaping out. Also, the audience will have to move at a stately, safe, un-thrilling pace to view screens displaying filmed races - the critics will butcher that. It also reminds me of seeing Cats at the New London Theatre - the stage and the front four rows of the audience revolved during the Overture. The poor front of house staff had to field so many unhappy tourists complaining, before the show started, that their top price tickets gave them an obstructed view of the stage!
The venue information revealed, at the National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham, makes a lot of sense. A show of this size needs high traffic, good transport links, and plenty of space. However what is not clear in this mention is whether this is planned to build a new theatre at the NEC complex, or take over part of the existing structure. This may well be a moot point anyway, as COVID has had such a massive impact on tourism, travel, leisure, and exhibitions in particular. This brief mention from Harvey Goldsmith does read more that "This technology will be installed and used, at first, for Starlight Express" rather than "The new production of Starlight Express will be immersive and based on this technology".
Starlight Express has always BEEN immersive in static productions - the race tracks circling the auditorium, the toy trains running around as you find your seat. Diesel Engines suddenly appearing behind you. Characters filling the auditorium. The show doesn't need new technology to provide the experience, it needs to invest in its performers and infrastructure. This feels like they're finding a lengthy way to solve the problems caused by touring - how to make filmed races spectacular - when a static production can simply stage the races live! Live races will always be more impressive than filmed, even without stunt skaters and digital trickery, because the audience is actually there. You actually see the performers race, you feel their energy, it's real, it's the magic of live theatre.