Continuing the neverending worldwide obsession with the tragic ship, Titanic The Musical sails into the Bord Gáis on a wave of acclaim. The original Broadway show was a huge, running for 2 years and winning 5 Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Book and Best Original Score in the process. This particular version originated in the Southwark Playhouse before touring extensively.
The mere thought of Titanic brings with it an expectation of scale, it also raises questions on how the sinking of a ship on a stage will be portrayed visually and tastefully, after all, this is a musical about the death of 1,500 people. Some of those questions are answered successfully.
The first thing to notice is the stage design, which consists of the upper and lower decks of a ship, with a backdrop of a metal hull studded with rivets. It is functional if not quite inspiring. When the performers hit the stage and launch into full voice, however, there is no denying the power of that beautiful wall of sound filling the theatre. Some large ensemble shows can be a little muddy soundwise, but the precise diction of the singers here meant no lyric was lost, the story was constantly clear.
This is even more satisfying as the lyrics to the songs, by Maury Yeston, are sometimes strikingly gorgeous. ‘In Every Age’, the overture where J Bruce Ismay describes the mighty craft as, “At once a poem and the perfection of physical engineering”, is a beautiful piece of writing.
Where the show becomes dry is in the story. When dealing with a multi-character piece the easiest thing is to stray towards caricature, and it does seem like every box on the period piece storyline checklist is ticked; inter-class love stories, social climbers, the poor pregnant girl – it’s all a little familiar.
With a first act dedicated to setting up the characters and stakes, the second dedicates itself to the sinking. The thing the audience know going in is that the show wouldn’t exist if the ship didn’t sink, so the staging of that is slightly underwhelming. Stage constraints meant there were obviously no water effects, but no attempt is made to visually create that rushing flood. There was also a jarring juxtaposition between one huge piece of the set rising to represent the boat going down when the characters have just mimed climbing into lifeboats centre stage. Certain storylines and character arcs also just…end, which is definitely anticlimactic.
Any negatives the show may have is no fault of the performers, who were good across the board and in fine voice. What was massively impressive was the direction by Thom Southerland. The staging, and in particular the movement of a massive cast across a restricted space, was flawless. It was beautiful to watch the whole thing flow together so seamlessly.
This is a musical built for, and demanding, applause, almost every song ending on a high note, almost every one of them a love song. The climax was met with a standing ovation by the crowd, so while there was a slight hollowness at the centre, Titanic fans will keep the show afloat for some time.
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