Titanic continues at Charing Cross Theatre, London, until 6 August.
Rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
The gods have not always been kind to the Charing Cross Theatre, which has had its share of shipwrecks in its time, but this maiden voyage under new artistic director Thom Southerland and his co-producer Danielle Tarento must surely herald calm waters ahead.
And why not? You don’t have to take out a loan to purchase an excellent pew, the 265 staggered seats mean you can see well from anywhere, and if Titanic, a quite sensational piece of theatre, is anything to go by, this cosy place is going to offer top quality shows married to first-rate value.
This is a reworking of Southerland’s 2013 Southwark Playhouse production of the Broadway show (music and lyrics by Maury Yeston, story and book by Peter Stone) which won five Tonys in 1997, including Best Musical. Despite its Broadway origins, it’s a very English piece with nods to Elgar and Gilbert & Sullivan if I’m not mistaken.
There’s no ‘My Heart Will Go On’ here, not a hit song in sight, but this is a musical that doesn’t need one.
There’’s a lump in the throat from the moment a full-on company of 20 charge into a stirring chorale of ‘Godspeed Titanic’ to the moving finale when the In Memoriam of the drowned, all 1,517 of them, is scrolled on to a screen to an ironic reprise of the same anthem.
What is extraordinary is that we know the horrible outcome of the Titanic’s maiden voyage from Southampton to New York in 1912 but can still feel the excitement of everyone on board at being part of a piece of history on what was then the biggest, most luxurious liner in the world.
From the villain of the piece, White Star Lines boss Ismay who wants his ship to go faster than it should to beat the Germans’ best time to New York, to the architect, the captain, the crew and the heavily segregated first, second and third-class passengers, we engage with them all in turn.
It was Yeston’s intention to write a musical about the doomed people rather than the flawed ship and by the end we feel we know every one of them and their dreams: the badly-paid third-class immigrating to a better life; the seconds living a leisured lifestyle in imitation of the upper classes: the firsts maintaining their privilege forever.
The collision with the iceberg, brilliantly realised at the end of Act – it rocked audience and theatre as well –- dashes all those dreams simultaneously as the realisation slowly dawns that those three magical days at sea bring out the best and worst in everybody.
It would take a hard heart not to be moved when the elderly Ida Straus (Judith Street, reprising her Southwark role superbly as does Dudley Rogers as her husband Isidor) refuses a lifeboat to be by her beloved’s side at the bitter end.
Much enjoyed is ‘The Proposal’ duet between fragile wireless operator Bride (Matthew Crowe) and stoker Barrett desperate to get a message to his girlfriend (Niall Sheehy, powerful), while the lovely voice of Helena Blackman as Lady Caroline, off to the Big Apple with journalist admirer to get married away from her disapproving family, stands out in ‘I Give You My Hand’.
Social climber Alice, sneaking from second to first to rub shoulders with the toffs, is a lovely piece of acting by Claire Machin, while David Bardsley is a superb Ismay and Sion Lloyd’s vocals as the designer Andrews and James Gant’s nervy steward Etches also catch the attention.
But this is a team effort par excellence under Southerland’s driving and if England’s footballers respond as wholeheartedly in France, the trophy already has our name on it.
The deceptively simple set by David Woodhead marvellously represents the ill-fated ship, Cressida Carré’s choreography lights up the ensemble scenes, musical director Joanna Cichonska’s band of six make Yeston’s lush score a thing of beauty; this is a show very hard not to admire.
She Who Must Be Obeyed, not normally given to joining in standing ovations, did so on this occasion, plus she left instructions Titanic had to be given five stars. So, for once, we are in harmony.
Go! It’s the best ticket in town, certainly for the price.
Tickets for Titanic are available HERE.
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Titanic at the Charing Cross Theatre – brand new images