Music & Lyrics: Maury Yeston
Book: Peter Stone
Director: Thom Sutherland
Reviewer: John Roberts
Having originally launched just months before James Cameron’s recording breaking film, Maury Yeston and Peter Stone’s powerful and heart-breaking musical won plaudits and awards on its maiden voyage on Broadway – yet unlike Cameron’s filmic version Yeston & Stone’s retelling of the tale uses the stories of actual passengers on board the disaster-laden “unsinkable” ship.
Thom Sutherland’s sensitive production first started life five years ago at the 250 seat Southwark Playhouse in London and now in the midst of an epic UK Number 1 tour, which has seen this intimate musical play some of the biggest theatres in the country – and arguably it’s this playing to a larger capacity that perhaps, we lose some of the intimacy and the connection to some of the characters within this otherwise stellar production.
The story unfolds in a ghostly fashion on board David Woodhead’s gantry styled set – which may look simple but provides a glorious moment in act two – bringing in passengers from all classes who were aboard the ship, it’s not hard to notice that Yeston and Stone have focused the piece, overall, on couples, arguably to try and wrangle an emotional pull from an already over-told tale. That said the show’s most touching moment comes from an excellent pairing of Dudley Rogers and Judith Street as Isidor and Ida Straus – an elderly couple who will not be parted even in the final fleeting moments.
Titanic is by all accounts a more libretto focused musical and as such lends itself toward a more operatic feel in its form, and this is no bad thing, the wall of sound which is created by the large ensemble is something to behold. How can you not be swept along by the rousing opening lines of Godspeed Titanic when the epic choral nature of the piece is in full force. Just as atmospheric is Howard Hudson’s deliciously dark and foreboding lighting design which never fails to create an impact. When all these are coupled with Southerland’s tightly contained direction which is never overly busy or fussy then you have a winning combination.
There are strong performances throughout and Simon Green (J Bruce Ismay), Greg Castiglioni (Thomas Andrews) and Philip Rham (Captain Edward Smith) provide suitably strong performances especially during the act two number The Blame– which lays bare the question, just who was to blame for the Titanic to sink. Lewis Cornway gives a bright and cheerful performance as the 14-year-old Bellboy and Gemma McMeel is strong as third-class Irish passenger Kate Mullins. Jacinta Whyte brings plenty to enjoy in her larger than life portrayal of Alice Beane the second-class passage who just wants to rub shoulders with the elite.
Titanic the Musical may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but this is a musical that is delivered in fine bone china, its delicate and expensive but it also has strength within. Arguably it may have had more of an impact in a smaller venue but Thom Sutherland’s production still packs a weighty punch in the city that saw the birth of the great ship itself.
Runs until 4 August 2018 | Image: Scott Rylander