Getting ready for a rollercoaster ride

EMMA LEE The colourful all-action musical Starlight Express has steamed into Norwich for a month. Tim Driesen, who plays the Japanese engine, Nintendo, shows EMMA LEE how he gets into character.


It's two hours before the curtain rises on a matinee performance of Starlight Express and backstage at the Theatre Royal, Norwich, it's buzzing.

Performers are warming up with stretches and vocal work-outs in the rabbit warren of corridors.

Some already have their roller boots on and are whizzing around.

In the lively chorus dressing room Tim Driesen, who plays the Japanese engine Nintendo is preparing to get into character.

“I hope it's going to be a good make-up day as you're taking my picture,” he laughs.

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The original Starlight Express opened at the Apollo Victoria Theatre in London's West End on March 27, 1984. Written by Andrew Lloyd Webber, it was directed by Trevor Nunn with choreography by Arlene Phillips, who is well-known for her appearances as a judge on Strictly Come Dancing and designed by John Napier.

In the show, a race between three different types of engine - steam, electric and diesel, takes place on a model railway as dreamt by a young boy.

In the touring production which is in Norwich now, the race segment of the show is shown on film and audience members wear 3D glasses.

The cast members in this touring production do their own make-up - and Tim has done his so many times during the tour he no longer needs a picture to guide him.

“My character is Japanese, so the make-up is sort of Geisha style,” he explains while applying heavy white foundation.

A steady hand is a must for the next stage, where he starts painting black lines onto his face, which start to give him a robotic appearance.

“I'll fill the lines in with oilier blue paint later,” he says. “This is the guide to where it goes. This is where it can all go wrong. It's hard to get it perfectly symmetrical.

“When you start in the show, a make-up artist does one half of the face for you and you have to do the other half. Sometimes you have to cover other characters.”

When that part of the make-up is done it's time for Tim to put on his skates and knee and elbow pads as a message over the tannoy calls the performers down to the stage for the warm-up session.

“The boots are leather so they mould to your feet,” he explains. “They're specially imported, from America, I think.

“The warm-up is really important. It gets your muscles going. It's quite heavy on your legs so you have to keep stretching them.

“I hadn't skated much before the show, but you go to skate school,” he explains.

During the warm-up the cast speedily snake around the stage in a conga line and are then split into groups to practice their turns and other moves.

After that they do vocal exercises, then a vocal coach goes through the previous day's performance highlighting any areas which could do with tightening up.

Tim was born in Belgium and trained at Laine Theatre Arts in Epsom, Surrey, where he graduated with an honours diploma in musical theatre.

“I loved the shows from when I was little,” he says. “And shows like these incorporate everything - you have to sing, you have to dance and act.”

He's been in shows for almost a decade and his credits include Riff-Raff and Rocky in a European tour of the Rocky Horror Show, Mamma Mia at the Prince Edward Theatre, London and Joseph in a UK tour of Joseph and his Amazing Techicolor Dreamcoat.

He also played 70s hearthrobs Donny Osmond and David Cassidy in the UK tour of Thank You for the Music.

Tim writes and performs his own pop songs and has also written a full-length musical which has had a workshop production in a small West End venue.

After the warm-up he has just 30 minutes left to finish getting ready.

In the dressing room the excitement builds as another tannoy announcement signals that the auditorium is open and the audience starts to arrive.

Tim puts the finishing touches to his make up, adding a few Japanese-style tattoos (“I made them up - I hope they don't mean anything offensive,” he jokes) and makes sure that he sets it with lots of powder to ensure it doesn't run under the hot stage lights.

Then it's time to go downstairs to put on his costume.

“It's best you go to the toilet before you put the costume on,” he laughs.

The performers have to wear a stretchy all-in-one bodysuits underneath their costumes because they sweat so much during the energetic show.

The costumes are quite bulky and heavy - and backstage a team of dressers is on hand to help the cast into them.

“And that's it,” Tim says, fully transformed into Nintendo and ready to roll onto the stage.


t Since Starlight Express opened at the Apollo Victoria in London on March 27 1984, it has been produced in Germany, America, Canada, Japan, Australia and Mexico, as well as a production on ice in 1997.

t It closed at the Apollo on the January 12, 2002, after a run of 18 years and 7,409 performances. It is second only to Cats as the longest-running musical in British theatre history.

t An estimated 16 million people have seen the show worldwide - and estimated gross box office takings world-wide are £352m.

t Mel B, aka Scary Spice, of former band the Spice Girls, trained at the skate school for Starlight Express in 1995. Saffron, lead singer of the band Republica, was in the show for two years.

t 20,000 pairs of skate laces, 25,000 skate wheels and 15,000 toe stops were used during the London run.

t The London skaters got through 1,200,000 boxes of tissues and 12,000 gallon bottles of water.

t 2,000 pairs of false eyelashes, 8,000 tins of base make-up and 2,000 tubs of make-up remover have been applied.

t Starlight Express is at the Theatre Royal, Norwich, until June 24. Box office: 01603 630000 or visit

t For more information about Tim Driesen visit