Thursday, 13 April 2023

REVIEW: Titanic the Musical at the Mayflower, Southampton

It is 111 years since the RMS Titanic set sail from Southampton and sank a few days later on the morning of 15th April 1912 with the loss of over 1500 people. Many families in the City were affected by the event although it often remained an unspoken story in those families for years after. It is therefore very special that this musical based on the event should return to the City to start a new tour in the anniversary week of the tragedy. The emotional connection to the Southampton crew families is drawn out so clearly in the closing scenes as the rescued passengers face the list of names that lost their lives before singing a powerful reprise of the best number in the show "Godspeed Titanic". It provides a climatic conclusion to a production that in this restaging connects with the audience through its storytelling and well-acted characterisations.

The musical was written by Maury Yeston and Peter Stone and won Tony's on Broadway in 1997 but was not staged in the UK until 2013. This production started to great acclaim in the intimate venue of the Southwark Playhouse under the direction Thom Southerland and has grown in this remounting. The Mayflower stage is one of the largest outside the West End, and the sheets of metal and rivets that back the stage and proscenium arch echo the ship and frame the scenes which are mainly depicted by the lighting and some authentic-looking props and furniture. It means the scenes flow seamlessly from one to another and maintain an even pace, or perhaps even speeding up as the ship's speed is increased from 19 knots to 23 knots despite the ice warnings.

The opening scene cleverly has the cast leaving the dockside on stage to enter the ship through the auditorium and we can sense their awe as they stare up at the huge vessel. In the second half when the lifeboats are cast adrift into the auditorium leaving the rest to die on the ship, this direction gives us an emotional connection to those lost just as those in lifeboats must have felt. The show’s direction and movement are very effective with the large cast on the huge stage using the different levels and stairways to give a sense of status and location. The choreography really stands out with the stokers in the engine room during "Barrett's song" led by Adam Filipe) and "Lady's Maid" with the three Kate's (Emily George, Lucie-Mae Sumner and Niamh Long).

The cast successfully creates the different characters and stories at the heart of the tragedy. Graham Bickley is Captain Edward Smith (43 years at sea without an incident), Martin Allanson is the owner Bruce Ismay and Ian McLarnon is the ship’s architect Andrews. They clearly portray the headstrong characters and the tension between these key protagonists.

The key roles of Fleet, the lookout (Sam Brown), Bride, the telegraph operator (Alistair Hill), Hartley, the lead musician, (Joseph Peacock) and Murdoch, the man in command of the ship when it hit the iceberg (Billy Roberts) are all sympathetically presented. Valda Aviks and David Delve portray the famous Ida and Isidor Straus who remained together in the first-class lounge as it sank. Emma Harrold and Matthew McDonald portray a couple eloping in second class and James Darch and Bree Smith another second-class couple with aspirations to mingle with the rich and famous, both couples separated by the disaster.

The Titanic story has such built-in emotions with those setting sail with such optimism of a new life or pride in the great new ship turning to despair and panic as the ship sinks that it is made to engage us, and this restaging brings all the elements together to make that connection. It helps that I had a Great Grandfather on board and another more distant relative, so I am predisposed to engage in the story but also have a sense of pride that the show keeps the memory of these lost souls alive.

The operatic score has few truly memorable songs, most being melancholy and haunting tunes in keeping with the tragedy but the final sequence from the haunting "No Moon" through to the reprise of the anthem "Godspeed Titanic" in front of the lost soul’s memoriam cloth still touches and reminds us of Southampton's loss. I wish the musical godspeed as it starts its tour and hope it is a successful and happy sailing.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Stalls, Row T | Price of Ticket: 45

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