The show with music and lyrics by Maury Yeston tells the story of the final hours of 14th April 1912 the RMS Titanic, on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York, and runs at Royal & Derngate until Sat 30 June 2018
Spoiler alert – if you don’t know the infamous story of the White Star liner “Titanic” and would rather be surprised then don’t read on…
The tragic maiden, and final, voyage of the “unsinkable” ship is told here in a mostly sung-through musical by an excellent ensemble cast, who take on a variety of roles between them. We embark with them in their excitement to be sailing across the Atlantic – from the first to board third-class passengers who make their way below decks, to the second class customers who are somewhat more looking forward to rubbing elbows with the high and mighty first class millionaires. They clamber up through the audience to be met by the staff of the mighty vessel, before heading off to find their cabins.
The stage is decked with towering riveted walls, plunging us into the heart of the ship itself, but the split-level stage also acts as the deck of the ship and the now infamous white railings that surrounded the liner. The rear of the stage, a reminder that this is a story of real people now long gone, is filled with mist – each of the characters emerging for each scene as a ghost from the past.
As an ensemble piece, we never really get chance to get to know the characters well; perhaps this is for the best considering we know what is going to befall them before the end. While many take on numerous characters, Philip Rhan, Greg Castiglioni and Simon Green as Captain Edward Smith, ship designer Thomas Andrews and White Star Chairman J. Bruce Ismay respectively, play the same characters throughout. Their egos and tensions boil over in the powerful The Blame during the second act, with each man attempting to pass the fault to the other. Castiglioni is a true stand out, with special mention to Mr Andrews’ Vision, which featured the most visually stunning movement of David Woodhead’s set design. I must admit, I was sad to see Ismay receive the same “villain” treatment as in previous re-tellings of the Titanic tragedy, although far less pantomime-like than in other adaptations.
Niall Sheehy as Stoker Barrett was delightfully charismatic – playing the everyman and hero, leading the third class passengers to the safety of the lifeboats – and also probably the most rounded character – his plea to Marconi Operator Bride (Oliver Marshall) during The Proposal/The Night Was Alive to send a message to his lover back at home was particularly charming.
The music and lyrics feel very traditionally British (despite the musical having been penned across the pond) – the songs sound timeless, although there’s no real earworm of a number to find yourself humming after the show.
Technically, this was a stunning production – the set while simple comes alive thanks to a clever use of a staircase, costume changes are practically done in the blink of an eye, and the use of the performers spilling out into the aisles really helped to bring the audience into the show. The lighting transformed the sometimes quite bare set into the overbearing heat of the boiler rooms, to the starry still night that sealed the ship’s fate.
While I cannot fault the performances, the set, the costumes or the direction, Titanic The Musical is not perfect. The first half is slow paced and overlong by about 20 minutes due to the many character introductions, while the second half races by in a whirl of ever-increasing desperation before suddenly grinding to a halt. The aftermath of the impact with the iceberg is going to be a tricky thing to bring to the stage, but it never felt like the show really fully immersed itself in the actual event. However, Titanic The Musical chooses to focus of the lives on the RMS Titanic, rather than the disaster itself, and does so respectfully, in consideration of the fact that these are all based on real passengers aboard the doomed ship.
A beautiful, poignant musical, with stunning performances across the board.
Titanic The Musical runs at Royal & Derngate until 30 June 2018. Tickets available at www.royalandderngate.co.uk
Performance: Mon 25 Jun 2018, Derngate, Northampton
Rebecca is a theatre lover originally from Birmingham. She founded On Stage Northants in 2017, and is passionate about promoting Northampton performing arts. Can usually be found behind the scenes, and occasionally in front of them too. Bec also runs Rebel Peacock Creative Media.