Review by Daz Gale
We all know the story of Titanic, don’t we? Kate Winslet meets Leonardo DiCaprio and then decides to let him die because she couldn’t be bothered to move over a bit. What you might not know is that a musical adaptation based on the true story was in the works before the blockbuster movie was released and coincidentally debuted in the same year. Now back in the UK after what felt like 84 years, would it be smooth sailing for this production or would it be an absolute disaster?
Based on the ill-fated maiden voyage of the Titanic in 1912 where the ship hit an iceberg resulting in the tragic loss of life of many of the passengers on board. The musical adaptation debuted on Broadway in 1997 and has been seen in the UK multiple times in the last decade, now celebrating the 10th anniversary of its arrival in the UK with a new touring production.
Written by Peter Stone, Titanic tells the story of that voyage - from the carefree nature of the first act and the unfolding drama that dominates the second act as disaster hits and panic increases. With the characters named after real players on board the ship including the captain Edward Smith and designer Thomas Andrews, there is a sense of authenticity to the proceedings with the obligatory love story a secondary story that never takes over the show completely.
There is the sense that there are too many sub-stories going on at times, making it harder to focus on any one character in particular. While this is a necessary part of the storytelling for a show about a tragedy that cost many lives, some connect easier than others. It’s older couple Isidor and Ida Straus that really tugs at the heartstrings, but the show has a tendency to jump around too much which can be jarring at times.
Music and lyrics by Maury Yeston were a mixed bag for my personal taste. While the music itself was glorious to listen to, the need to get the details of the story conveyed in musical form resulted in what I felt were clunky lyrics, particularly in the opening numbers. Whether I grew accustomed to this style later on or the lyrics improved as the show progressed, these were far more satisfying in the second act with some stunning numbers peppered among the shows score. The undoubted musical highlight for me was the emotional ‘We’ll Meet Tomorrow’ which was performed sensitively to a spine-tingling brilliant standard The songs were perfectly realised by musical director Ben Papworth and musical supervisor Mark Aspinall, bringing them to life beautifully. And no, ‘My Heart Will Go On’ doesn’t make an appearance in this one.
The standard among the cast was exceptionally high but with such a large cast, it often felt harder to stand out among them. Valda Aviks was a highlight as Ida Straus, providing a tender story as the devoted lover to husband Isidor, played by David Delve. Adam Filipe was a huge standout in his role of Frederick Barrett, showcasing some incredible vocals during his time, while Sam Brown gave a refreshingly sweet performance as Frederick Fleet. Joseph Peacock’s Bellboy managed to steal scenes with a heart-breaking innocence, with Bree Smith a true marvel in her turn as Alice Beane.
Thom Southerland’s direction was inspired but not always consistent. Trying to fittingly convey the panic and drama of such an awful disaster cannot be the easiest and at times, this is played out flawlessly. However, some of the choices towards the more climactic moments of the ships sinking felt confused – one example of which being the way people in lifeboats were thrown on to the floor, ironically lacking the impact a moment such as that deserved. It should be stated though that this tour of Titanic had only just opened when I was invited to review and perhaps isn’t quite of the standard I’m sure it will get to as the tour progresses.
David Woodheads set design transports us to the ship itself and is wonderful visually, with a clever trick towards the shows climax. Howard Hudsons lighting created an atmospheric and, at times, intense mood, and despite several problems with the sound, Andrew Johnsons sound design was strong throughout. One of the strongest production elements came from Cressida Carre’s musical staging including impressive choreography particularly on the fun group number ‘Doing The Latest Rag’.
While the story jumps around a bit, predominantly during the first act, it finds its feet towards the end, resulting in a truly emotional and haunting final moments. The writing in these closing minutes is exemplary, made even more poignant by the names of all those who lost their lives being displayed in the background. A powerful, gut punch of a performance, it is something that lingers in your mind long after leaving the theatre.
While Titanic The Musical has more than proved itself in the last ten years, winning a legion of fans and a bunch of Tony awards from its time on Broadway, this production felt a little bit rough around the edges. Whether that is due to the early nature of the performance I saw or another factor remains to be seen. Despite this, there are many strong elements to this production including a stunning cast and some gorgeous songs making this, overall, a night to remember.
Titanic The Musical sets sail around the UK until 5th August. Tickets from https://titanicthemusical.co.uk/
Photos by Pamela Raith