REVIEW: Starlight Express, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, until Saturday, December 8.

Starlight Express picks up the pace impressively for the most sparkling of feel-good finales - a show which really does reward early patience.

Unless you are already a devotee, you might well find yourself struggling with an opening half an hour which leaves you wondering what on earth you have let yourself in for.

But, particularly in the second half, the tracks converge nicely for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s bizarre concoction of trains, dreams, roller-skates and a little bit of Cinderella.

In truth, it’s a musical which seems to lack two or three stand-out numbers; too often, snatches of the music leave you thinking “Oooh, that’s Joseph” or “Hmmm, you’ve already had that hook in Evita.” There even seems to be a snatch of Cats at one point.

But in the end, it all comes good, helped on by the huge energy of the cast and their mind-boggling skill in literally skating their way through the whole thing.

Kristofer Harding is excellent as the put-upon steam engine who comes from behind to cover himself in glory; and there is plenty of fun all round as the show gets over its sluggish start and gets into its stride.

The American (why American?) voice-over is more than a little grating, but this is a show in which the right guy (well, engine) gets the gorgeous girl (well, carriage) in a coupling which will leave you tingling.

To bill it as a tale of love and hope in the face of adversity is probably over-egging it a bit, but certainly by the end it’s got a charm all its own.

Phil Hewitt