Titanic the Musical – Birmingham Hippodrome

Book: Peter Stone

Music and Lyrics: Maury Yeston

Director: Thom Southerland

Reviewer: John Kennedy

An additional irony to the already hubris-laden Titanic tragedy is that its revolutionary design made it the safest ship afloat – which it was. Albeit, immediately up to, but not subsequent to hitting a colossal iceberg at 22 knots – because then, self-evidently, it was neither safe or to remain afloat.

The definitive cinematic account still remains A Night to Remember (1958). The most conspicuous being James Cameron’s – Oscars by the barrow-load, tear-jerker –Titanic (1998). The iconic mise-en-scène where dashing doyenne of the Irish diaspora, upstart parvenu Jack, lends romantic wings to the gushing Rose on the sun-setting prow of the noble vessel is indelibly underscored by My Heart Will Go On. Unforgettable, as is the needling, plaintive Celtic refrain right up to the blub-fest denouement. To create a musical adaptation of such a disaster might be pushing good/bad taste, luck and The Fates to extremes. Operas have had a bash at these sort of challenges – but really, needed to lighten things up a bit. What of ‘Oedipus Rex! An eye-popping song & dance spectacular’ or ‘ Elektra – A family show with lyrics to die for!’. It’s a big ask – one of those chancing your luck, ‘putting out the deckchairs’ moments.

However, even the most wizened of cynics or the justifiably historical pedant might be caressed into submission by this accomplished, intelligent and humane interpretation of that dreadful night’s events. It has an elegiac dignity and shrewd essence of both operatic and operetta momentum. Class, social deference, knowing one’s place segue with thoughtful, often acerbic nuance and gentle wit. Romance blooms for both young and old; till death do they depart with wrenching immediacy. Women and children fade into the auditorium; subsumed within a chorus of poignant, shivering cadence.

Set and costume designer, David Woodhead, in tandem with lighting designer, Howard Hudson, exploit an ever-shifting dynamic of fluidity within the ship’s super-structured space with vibrant urgency. The climatic pitch of the sinking stern with ship designer, the tortured Thomas Andrews, mortified by his (unjustified) complicity in the disaster establishes the production’s conceptual footprint originality firmly on its own terms. Cpt. Smith was notified numerous times of icebergs, The size of the Rock of Gibraltar‘. The look-out in the crow’s-nest didn’t even have a pair of binoculars. That the ship’s officer, William Murdoch, shooting himself remains open to fierce conjecture – James Cameron personally apologised to his surviving family for also portraying this incident. Memories and sensitivities remain ever volatile.

The proscenium arch is framed by muscular riveted panels, seemingly indomitable, impenetrable – the apotheosis of Edwardian technology. This later becomes an ingenious self-referencing tableau. As star-light spills through open rivet-hole voids, the impending iceberg collision drawing on apace, the ominous connection is made that freezing water will imminently burst through them. The original production opened on Broadway some six months prior to Cameron’s film release. Confident and sure of its own conviction and integrity, its damnably difficult not to become near utterly, and forgive the pun, immersed in this show’s sincerity and humanity. Some twenty years hence, it’s evident none of the songs have been troubling Spotify’s streaming capacity lately though this current national tour might just rectify that. The beguiling refrain from Autumn, reprised with poignant empathy, remains ever a ghost of whispering innocence in a cacophony of impending catastrophe. Deservedly recommended; only a heart as cold and unshifting as an iceberg wouldn’t melt to this production’s persuasive authority.

Runs Until 9 June 2018  | Image: Scott Rylander

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A perilous journey persuasively portrayed

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  1. We saw the show on Saturday 9th June. This production lost so many opportunities to bring us into the real heart of the human story of the ships first voyage. Slow build up introducing the characters, but no real warmth or emotional connection was made. Fleeting moments of opportunities, such as the dialogue amongst the Irish passengers was soon forgotten when we were brought back again and again to the interminable and forgettable ‘good old days’ sing – a -long of the upper class passengers.

    Why were there no scene changes, clever use of lights, back drop, etc, no opulence when the diners were at the table, drop a couple of chandeliers from the ceiling to add to the drab, unmoving stage scenery. The life-boat scene was so, so very lame, again, drop a life-boat to the stage, use the lights, dry ice to instil the loss at sea of the passengers who went into the water.

    The enormity of the ship, the voyage and the 2000 plus souls on board was minimised by so few in the production, there were times when the stage could have been filled to bring us that feeling of the masses on board.

    So often we waited for a change of mood, of tempo, something that would draw some emotion, and every scene was as before, at best jolly, at worst, outright boring.

    Individuals shone a little with their personal talents for singing, again, lost in the music hall style of production.

    We previously saw Miss Saigon at the Hippodrome last year, the Titanic production could learn such a great deal from the way that the stage was used at every scene to evoke such a range of emotions.

    Such high expectations we had and interestingly, others around us shared them too, and were left feeling pretty much as we did, really dissapointed

  2. I totally agree with Joe, we, too, (as a family of 6) went to see this show on Saturday 09 June, afternoon performance, and we were so disappointed – indeed, whilst queuing for a drink during the interval others around us were thinking of NOT going back in and the only reason we did was because of how much it cost! Very drab, very boring was waiting for scene changes to bring it to life and none of this happened.

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