Twenty-one named characters plus an eleven-strong ensemble would make for a busy stage in the full company numbers and scenes if this show were put on at the London Palladium. In the considerably smaller Bridewell Theatre, despite a balcony, allowing the cast to appear on two levels, I was reminded of a woman on a commuter train on the suburban mainline out of Waterloo one evening a few years ago. She had wanted to do a Zumba workout on the train whilst listening to the music with her headphones, but as the train was so crowded (delays and cancellations, y’see) she could only manage extremely limited arm and foot movements. It was considerably easier to keep a straight face looking at this large cast, adopting a stand-and-deliver approach.
The band (eighteen musicians and a conductor is, to me, an orchestra, but I shall stick with what the programme says) play magnificently, gliding through a relatively complex score. The introduction to the ship and the show’s characters, as ever with this musical, is very long, with an almost dizzying array of various passengers and crew, plus miscellaneous callouts designed to provide an idea of what a mammoth operation the maiden voyage of RMS Titanic was. A six-figure number of pounds (lbs) of meat and fish, a five-figure number of bottles of wine, and so on. Some of the ‘first class passengers’ double up as ‘third class passengers’, such that there are a lot of costume changes for certain cast members.
Based on the performance on the evening I attended, there’s still a bit of ironing out to do with regards to moving the set around. But there aren’t that many amateur dramatics societies that would even attempt to stage Titanic the Musical, and this is indeed an ambitious project. There are some curious staging decisions – there seemed to be a greater proportion of third class passengers seated for dinner than first class ones, for instance, and at one point, stage smoke overwhelms the front rows.
Elsewhere, the lyrics and spoken dialogue engage the audience’s imagination accordingly, and in what is very much an ensemble piece of theatre, Tess Robinson’s Alice Beane, a second-class passenger, steals the show. Beane’s husband Edgar (Josh Yard) continuously discourages her from spending almost all her waking hours in the first class section, but she remains resolutely determined to hang out with who she considers to be the great and the good – her self-importance comically lasts to the end.
As the ship’s captain, Edward ‘EJ’ Smith (Daniel Saunders), its architect Thomas Andrews (Luke Leahy, with the strongest singing voice of any of the various Thomas Andrews’ I’ve heard over the years, including the Broadway cast recording) and chairman of the ship’s operator White Star Line, J. Bruce Ismay (Richard Upton) squabble over who is to blame for the catastrophe, it’s tempting to ponder whether three women in those positions would have done a better job. If the show appears a tad insensitive to those who lost their lives, it portrays the attitudes of those in charge convincingly – such as a captain apparently too weak to have pushed back sufficiently against repeated demands from Ismay to go faster.
I warmed to James Daly’s Harold Bride, “wireless operator with the Marconi International Marine Signal Communications Company Ltd”, a description repeated enough times for me to scribble it down accurately, an enthusiastic and cheery younger man who evidently loves his work in what was new-fangled technology at the time. The costumes all suited the various characters, and the sound balance between band and cast ensured every lyric could be heard clearly. For a very obvious narrative reason, the audience isn’t furnished with a song-and-dance extravaganza at the end. That said, it was a pleasure to revisit this exquisite piece of theatre, reimagined for a smaller space. It’s a familiar musical (at least to me) of a familiar story, but its emotional impact remains undimmed.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Epic and yet intimate, Titanic The Musical captures the triumph and tragedy of the hopeful passengers on the ill-fated Ship of Dreams.
In the final hours of 14 April 1912 the RMS Titanic, on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York, collided with an iceberg and sank. As “the unsinkable ship” went down, 1517 men, women and children lost their lives.
Based on real people, Titanic The Musical is a stunning and heart-breaking production focusing on the dreams and aspirations of the passengers, who boarded to take the trip of their lives, unaware that for many it would be their last journey.
The Third Class immigrants dream of a better life in America, the Second Class imagine they too can join the lifestyles of the rich and famous, while the millionaire Barons of the First Class anticipate legacies lasting forever.
Story and Book by PETER STONE
Music and Lyrics by MAURY YESTON
Epic and yet intimate, Titanic The Musical captures the triumph and tragedy of the hopeful passengers on the ill-fated Ship of Dreams
23 NOVEMBER-2 DECEMBER 2023