Review by Rosie Holmes
There is nothing more exciting to me than seeing a brand-new musical, particularly when viewing completely free of expectations and with the promise that it may well become an all-time favourite. So I was hugely excited to go down and watch one of only a handful of performances of new musical Galaxy Train in a semi-staged concert in the studio space at The Other Palace. The question then was, would a show set amongst the stars be a 5 star hit itself?
After the huge success of My Neighbour Totoro at the Barbican, it certainly feels like there is an appetite for adaptations of Japanese work in London’s theatrical landscape. Galaxy Train is based on the 1927 book ‘Night on the Galactic Railroad’ and is a Japanese-British collaboration. The story follows Giovanni and Campanella, two young boys with seemingly very different lives. Giovanni is poor, working in a factory to support his mother after the disappearance of his father. Whilst Campanella is wealthy, but is mourning the loss of his mother. After an altercation with some classmates at the local Milky Way Festival, the two boys find themselves aboard the Galaxy Train, journeying through space and spiritual realms.
The show explores themes of life after death, sacrifice and love, and for the most part grapples with these themes effectively, albeit sometimes overly sentimentally. The songs here are perhaps more effective in moving forward the narrative and exploring these themes and emotions than the book. Songs composed by Eden Tredwell allow the cast of 7 to show off their gorgeous vocals. A particular highlight for me was a song early on in the show about the community festival, with clear Japanese influences, this is a song that made me excited for potential future iterations of the show as with a larger space and cast, I believe could be a truly wonderful ensemble piece.
However, I did feel that the piece suffered a little with too many heavy and sorrowful ballads. Don’t get me wrong - I adore a ballad but some of them felt a little too indulgent and their frequency diluted the emotion of the show. One of the highlights for me was a delightfully silly song about birdwatching- my favourite lyric “a robin is festive, a tit too suggestive” though it was one of my favourite parts of the show, amongst the other ballads it felt a little out of place. A wider variety of songs I feel would make the show a little pacier and enhance the more emotional scenes. I also believe drawing on more of the Japanese influences would make this show really standout, as when used this style is very effective in comparison to some of the often too textbook musical theatre ballads that become a little repetitive.
The cast is made up of seven performers, two of whom also starred in the Japanese-language workshop of the same show in Tokyo in 2021. All of them are clearly wonderful singers and each really got the chance to showcase their talents in individual songs. Jordan Broatch and Juna Shai performed a wonderfully emotive duet, able to exhibit their vocal talents, after having mainly been background characters for the first half of the show.
Misato Higashijima, as Campanella showed off an extremely powerful voice in an impressive performance though his singing voice did seem rather at odds with his character who is otherwise very softly spoken. Saori Oda was tasked with one of the most powerful songs in the show, as Campanella’s mother and really got to show off her operatic voice with plenty of emotion. Likewise, Sinead Wall as the train guard provided an accomplished performance, again showcasing her vocal talents.
A star turn came from Liam Murray Scott who was able to show off not only his lovely voice, but his comedic talents, as the overly positive and exuberant bird catcher who is not quite all he seems. It definitely felt that a little more of this comedy was needed throughout the show. Joey Zerpa-Falcon appeared as Giovanni and brought a wistful innocence to the role, that meant his character Giovanni was likeable despite his often rather frustrating actions.
In terms of staging, the studio at The Other Palace, is an extremely small space and therefore at times the stage appeared a little crowded. However, slick direction and an accomplished cast meant this was never a problem. Mostly set amongst the stars, all members of the cast were equipped with an orb that glowed different colours throughout the show, the orbs were used heavily in dance like sequences involving all of the cast, creating beautiful moments. The orbs coupled with Lorelei Cairns’ hand painted swirly backdrops created a fantastical set even in the smallest of spaces, with lighting used effectively to further enhance emotion and mood. The tricks that were used here in the small space, showcased perfectly how fantastic this show could look on a larger scale with bigger budgets to play with, transporting the audience to galaxies far away.
I was lucky enough to attend a brief q and a with composer and lyricist Eden Tredwell, and director Yojiro Ichikawa. They addressed something that I had wondered throughout the show. Where and when is it set? We are introduced to characters with Italian sounding names that seem to partake in Japanese inspired culture, who then meet victims of the sinking of the Titanic! This all sounds rather bizarre and I suppose it is. However, I actually think this could be a strength of the show. More of a focus on a completely, over the top, fantastical world where not everything makes sense and it feels as though anything could happen may just be a perfect form of escapism. After all, its a musical about a train racing through space.
Admittedly, there are some pacing issues in the story. It feels like the beginning is quite drawn out with some songs lasting a little too long and the story taking a while to pick up. This then seems odd as the ending felt weirdly rushed. After the disappearance of Campanella, his own dad calls off the search after 45 minutes and appears to move straight on with his life. Similarly, a conclusion is reached very quickly by Giovanni at the end of the show, that again feels a little too rushed especially when considering the gravity of his decisions. However, whilst there is room for improvement, the basis of the story is a perfect vehicle for a magical story than not only transports the audience to a different world but explores deeper themes such as grief and self-sacrifice.
Galaxy Train is still in the early stages of development and some lovely songs by Eden Tredwell and effective direction from Yojiro Ichikawa performed by a vocally fantastic cast make this a show I am definitely going to follow in any future iterations. Whilst work could definitely be done on the pacing of the story, seeing this piece in the very small studio space at The Other Palace has certainly made me excited for its potential in a larger space as a fully staged piece.
Galaxy Train has now finished its short run at The Other Palace, however the performance was filmed and is available to watch on demand via Theatrical Solutions- Galaxy Train - On Demand (ticketco.events)
Photos by Phil Swallow