Titanic the Musical

Music and lyrics by Maury Yeston, book by Peter Stone
Mayflower Theatre, Southampton and Harmonia
Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham

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Titanic the Musical cast Credit: Pamela Raith
Wallace Hartley (Joseph Peacock) and cast Credit: Pamela Raith
Ida and Isidor Straus (Valda Aviks and David Delve) Credit: Pamela Raith

The tragic history of the sinking of RMS Titanic is a tale which continues to fascinate more than a century on from that fateful night. James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster Titanic starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio only sought to ignite the interest of a whole new generation of amateur historians and enthusiasts. And then there’s that song, of course, which perhaps, whether wanted or not, looms just as large in the public consciousness as the story itself.

But anyone hoping for a blast of "My Heart Will Go On" will be disappointed as this production is in fact the 10th anniversary tour of the original ensemble musical with incredible harmonies that will melt the hardest of hearts.

The story centres around the very personal stories of the passengers, several of them based on real life figures of varying classes, brought together on this maiden voyage to New York. Gradually, we see their stories intersect as they arrive, settle into life on board and sail towards the impending doom of the ship’s collision with an iceberg.

Standout moments come in the shape of the vocals themselves—ineffably operatic in places, the harmonies between the ‘three Kates’ (Emily George, Niamh Long and Lucie-Mae Summer) during "Lady’s Maid" are exceptional. Light relief amongst the drama comes in the form of bandleader Wallace Hartley (Joseph Peacock—who also plays Bellboy) as he wittily leads the 1st class passengers in "Doing the Latest Rag" which has distinct shades of Cole Porter.

But it is Mr and Mrs Straus—Ida and Isidor (Valda Aviks and David Delve), crossing in their twilight years—who vanish any hope of a dry eye as they accept their certain death in their rendition of "Still" in act II.

David Woodhead’s set is ingenious—flanked by rivets, columns and boat decks, the actors make frequent use of a series of movable railings and passenger boarding steps to create a sense of scale and travel, in the absence of space itself. Woodhead’s costumes too play close attention to detail, with every button in place, from the splendid hats of the 1st class ladies to the crew’s uniforms.

For me, Titanic the Musical was a very slow burn. Act 1 invites the audience to invest in the passengers’ individual narratives, but the lyrics are at times difficult to follow and the anticipation of the iceberg itself is distractingly apparent. The show runs at 2 hours 20 minutes, and I couldn’t help feeling that it was longer than the main story warranted, even in respectful memoriam to the lives lost. That in itself, I think, makes it a strange choice for a musical.

As the very sweaty audience were released into the June night air, one gentleman remarked, “I wouldn’t mind hitting an iceberg now.” Granted, this was a comment on the temperature and not the production itself, but it very much raised a chuckle, I'll admit.

Reviewer: Rachael Duggan

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