The story of the Titanic has fascinated audiences since its tragic sinking 106 years ago. It has inspired countless songs (112 in 1912 alone!), blockbuster movies, stage shows and a musical. Maury Yeston and Peter Stone’s musical tragedy might not be the first choice for an evening’s entertainment but this touring production has much to recommend it.
Unlike the famous film, Yeston and Stone’s story (which opened in the same year as the musical – 1997 was evidently a good year for disaster entertainment!) features real people who were actually on the boat increasing the show’s emotional weight. Through Yeston’s evocative music and lyrics we are introduced to a host of characters about to embark on their journey to the new world. There is stoker Frederick Barrett (engagingly performed by Niall Sheehy) in the coal room, aspirant social climber Alice Beane in second class, Kate McGowan desperate for a fresh start in third class and Ida and Isador Strauss returning to America and enjoying the luxury aboard the Titanic in first class.
The musical has a clear political message as Yeston and Stone highlight the class differences on board the ship. These divisions are underlined by the doubling of the cast in Thom Southerland’s tautly directed ensemble production. The use of the auditorium by Southerland envelopes the audience in the show, making the final separation (as the lifeboats depart the sinking ship) all the more poignant. The political punches continue to hit as the survivors inform us (standing in front of a list of the 1,517 people who died) that there were 450 empty seats on the lifeboats. This is a powerful moment but the list of those who lost their lives is better employed at the end of the show when its impact can be more fully felt.
David Woodhead’s set evokes the Titanic with its riveted steel proscenium arch and backdrop. A moving staircase (the staple of many a contemporary musical theatre production) is effectively utilised to create various locations around the ship. Howard Hudson’s lighting provides further depth on the minimal set, transporting the audience to the sweltering boiler rooms, sculpting the first class dining room and suggesting the despair as Captain Edward Smith disappears into the mist. Cressida Carré’s musical staging is sparsely employed but wonderfully realised – the movement that accompanies ‘Barrett’s Song’ highlights the dance like quality of the repetitive actions of the stokers and the dance of Alice and Edgar Beane, as the Titanic rushes towards its tragic end, is incredibly touching.
There are some fantastic voices on display here. The choral numbers powerfully filling the auditorium (their volume causing a little distortion in the first Act) and, at times, overpowering the orchestra. When the sinking of the ship occurs, after an epic build, it manages to avoid gawky spectacle, continuing with the show’s honest emotional tone as the Titanic’s designer Thomas Andrews acknowledges his mistakes. Greg Castiglioni superbly realising this song, which verges on the operatic, whilst hanging from the sinking ship is truly something.
This is not the flashiest of shows, and at times the pace is a little slow, however, if you are looking for a moving evening and an ensemble of solid performances then Titanic the Musical is worth checking out.
Reviewer: Clare Chandler
Reviewed: 9th July 2018
North West End Rating: ★★★★