Book: Peter Stone
Music and Lyrics: Maury Yeston
Director: Thom Southerland
Reviewer: Richard Miller
A bare-bones set, an eerie sea-mist and the clever use of chilly moon-blue lighting, conveys a sense of true horror in Titanic The Musical. That the audience already knows the outcome, adds to the feeling of gloomy, but gripping, foreboding. Despite the ominous undertone of tragic inevitability, however, the production is scattered with pockets of light-hearted humour that bring levity to a powerfully sombre performance. This is not, after all, just a show about the majestic “ship of dreams” or the “floating city” but about its passengers and crew, too.
A frenzied but stirring first act introduces their various story strands – new beginnings, high hopes – and while these may seem a little clichéd now are reflective of the time. The pride and elation around scoring a place on the ‘unsinkable’ ship itself, is palpable. “I’ll be back before a fortnight has passed”, boasts one character.
The Titanic is the class system in operation, with ambitious Alice Beane (Jacinta Whyte going full throttle) providing the audience with a gossipy who’s who of the First Class quarters while highlighting their lofty achievements and murky transgressions. She and husband Edgar (Timothy Quinlan) have been given some of the best lines of the show and land them with snappy precision.
Passengers in Second and Third class, as well as those grafting on the ship, get equal time to share their stories with the cast cleverly interchanging between costume and characters. Anything, they believe, is achievable in America.
Matthew McKenna’s Henry Etches, up to now a Jeeves-like all-seeing-eye complete with droll asides and knowing glances, oversees the removal of (certain) passengers to the lifeboats with a mournful acceptance in a second act that sees an understated and respectful take on what we all know happens next. There is subtlety amid the terror.
Events become quietly more desperate and the atmosphere colder. Simon Green’s finger-pointing ship owner Ismay is on particularly vociferous form here, as themes move from hope and opportunity to blame and responsibility.
The small orchestra makes a big noise with Maury Yeston’s fittingly stirring score. This isn’t the place for toe-tapping crowd-pleasers but these songs rouse and the lyrics resonate, helped along by a powerfully vocal ensemble. Similarly, beyond a clunky ragtime number staging is slick and smart across a compact set.
Titanic The Musical sails the audience through the ups and downs of hope and horror. It’s an absorbing couple of hours and is perhaps most powerful in its calmly poignant finale.
Runs until Saturday 28 July 2018 | Image: Scott Rylander