Bekki gets her skates on
It's the biggest and fastest show on earth and there's a Norwich actress at the heart of it. Sarah Hardy meets Bekki Carpenter as Starlight Express wows audiences.
We'd all been looking forward to this turbo-charged show arriving in Norwich and now it's finally here. Andrew Lloyd Webber's Starlight Express burst into life in 1984 and rolled into Norwich for the first time this week.
Among the 20-strong cast is 31-year-old Norwich actress Bekki Carpenter who has been with the show since the autumn. She plays Wrench, a repair truck who helps to keep Electra, the new electric engine, on the go, and is basically on stage all the time - in her hi-tech roller skates.
Now a fast and accomplished skater, she had never been on skates before landing the plum job. “None of us had so we all needed to learn. We had several weeks just mastering the art of skating before we even began rehearsals proper. I got lots of bruises and blisters but I think it's a skill for life and you do get a real buzz from it. It's just getting upstairs that is a bit tricky still!”
She says: “You do have to take care as we reach quite high speeds - one girl broke her wrist in rehearsals. I hurt my ankle but nothing too serious.
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“We are all super fit, you have to be. The show is very high energy and the costumes are quite big. I have to go to the gym to keep my stamina going. And we have a sports massage person with us on tour, too. They're kept pretty busy.”
The dancers do race around the stage (speeds of up to 40mph have been recorded) but, unlike in the West End show, they don't take to the auditorium. “I don't think there's enough room,” says Bekki. “And we get the audience to put on 3D glasses for our races and it's great to see people duck as they really get into it.”
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Bekki says: “As it's very quick we do sometimes fall over. But we just get straight back up. And the audience seems to like it when we fall over!”
She is from the south of the city and went to Hewett School. She wasn't mad-keen on drama when a student but did attend the Central School of Dance where Charlotte Corbitt still trains enthusiastic wannabes. “And I was a majorette so I guess I always knew that I wanted to dance professionally.”
She's looking forward to having a month at home and being spoiled by her parents. “Yes, Mum and Dad are still at home and my brother is in Hethersett. My grandparents and aunts and uncles are in the area, too, so they're all coming to the show. Not all at once, though!
“My grandmother is 92 and she's never managed to come to London to see me so it will be great to get her to the theatre.”
Bekki says that the tour has been selling out wherever they have visited. “We've done months in Dublin, Cardiff, Leicester and all the audiences have really had a great time - it's that sort of show.”
She adds that all the cast are great fun and that they all get on very well. “We usually go for a drink after the show as you need to wind down. I'm under pressure to come up with some good nights out for the company when we're in Norwich, especially to find some nice restaurants.
“I'm thinking of planning a Sunday afternoon on the Broads - that's something very Norfolk. We just need some good weather. And I know that people will want to go somewhere for a good Sunday roast, too.”
Bekki says: “It's great that we're at each venue for four weeks. It means that you can really settle down and explore an area. And it just wouldn't be financially possible for the show to only come for a week.”
She hasn't lived in Norwich since she left for college, the Laine Theatre Arts near London, when still a teenager “so I'll be looking up old friends and going to all the new shops.”
Bekki has been in musicals for the past 10 years and is now wondering what the future holds for her.
“I'm the oldest in the show and I realise that you can't dance forever. I certainly find it harder now than I did five years ago.”
She adds: “I think I'm ready to branch out. I have been singing with Greg Lake, founding member of the band Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and I'm thinking of going in that direction. I don't think I'd ever go into straight acting. I do like to go to see plays, but I'd miss the physical side of what I do now.”
t Starlight Express runs at the Theatre Royal, Norwich, until June 24. Tickets are from £5. Call the box office on 01603 630000 or visit www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk