Titanic [Southwark Playhouse; directed by Thom Southerland]

A musical version about the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, with music & lyrics by Maury Yeston to a book by Peter Stone

Barrett – James Austen-Murray
Lightoller – Dominic Brewer
Andrews – Greg Castiglioni
Kate Mullins – Scarlett Courtney
Bride – Matthew Crowe
Bellboy / Hartley – Jonathan David Dudley
Kate Murphy – Grace Eccle
Alice Beane – Celia Graham
Ismay – Simon Green
Edgar Beame – Oliver Hembrough
Pitman / Etches – James Hume
Murdoch – Sion Lloyd
Caroline Neville – Claire Marlowe
Jim Farrell – Shane McDaid
Fleet – Leo Miles
Charles Clarke – Nadim Naaman
Captain Smith – Philip Rahm
Isidor Straus – Dudley Rogers
Kate McGowan – Victoria Serra
Ida Straus – Judith Stretet

Mark Aspinall (musical director & keyboards), Julian Fish (violin), Raphael Hurwitz (viola), James Pringle (cello), Doug Grannell (bass) & Laurence Hill (percussion)

Thom Southerland – Director
Danielle Tarento – Producer & Casting Director
Cressida Carré – Musical Stager
David Woodhead – Set & Costume Designer
Howard Hudson – Lighting Designer
Andrew Johnson – Sound Designer
Victor Craven – Projection Designer

Reviewed by: Michael Darvell

Reviewed: 3 August, 2013
Venue: Southwark Playhouse, London

TITANIC at Southwark Playhouse; Simon Green (Ismay) and the Company. Photograph: Annabel VereThe sinking of the Titanic in 1912 never fails to fascinate, even a century after what was the worst-ever peacetime maritime disaster. Films about the tragedy began appearing almost immediately, Saved from the Titanic just a month afterwards with one of the survivors, Dorothy Gibson, in the cast. Another silent, La hantise (The Obsession) was made by the celebrated French director Louis Feuillade in the same year, as was a German version, Night and Ice, and 1913 saw a Danish film, Atlantis, as the first to introduce a fictional romance. It was based on a novel written before the disaster, but was very similar to the real events. Norway banned the film for making commercial entertainment out of human tragedy.

The first Titanic-related sound film, Atlantic, in 1929, was a highly-fictionalised tale in German, French and English versions, and in 1943 Titanic was a Nazi version that made a German officer the hero and the British the villains. Ten years later 20th Century Fox made Titanic, with Barbara Stanwyck, Clifton Webb and a teenage Robert Wagner in another mixture of fact and fiction. Often considered one of the most authentic of the films, A Night to Remember was a British version with Kenneth More. Lew Grade’s Raise the Titanic in 1980 was not a great success: “It would have cheaper to lower the Atlantic” may have been a quotation from Grade himself. The biggest blockbuster version of the story, James Cameron’s, was released in 1997. Others have followed in its wake, riding on the bandwagon of that success. There have also been several television adaptations of the story in fact and fiction, and also included in Downton Abbey. Another series, in twelve parts, entitled Titanic: Blood and Steel, with Derek Jacobi, Neve Campbell and Chris Noth, was screened last year in Europe but not the UK.

TITANIC at Southwark Playhouse; Greg Castiglioni as Andrews, architect of the Titanic. Photograph: Annabel VereThere have also been hundreds of books on the subject, a play, Christopher Durang’s Titanic (1974), and a stage musical featuring the celebrated Molly Brown, a rich US matriarch who happened to be on the Titanic’s fatal maiden voyage. Meredith Willson’s The Unsinkable Molly Brown was a show in 1960 which MGM filmed in 1964 with Debbie Reynolds in the title role. However, there is another musical about the Titanic which London has not until now seen. Maury Yeston and Peter Stone’s version ran on Broadway in 1997 for over 800 performances, winning five Tony Awards, and then did a successful US tour. From 2001 it had productions in the Netherlands, Germany, Canada, Australia, Japan, Finland and Norway. It has even been seen in Belfast and parts of the UK, but never the West End of London. However, there is now a new chamber version and the European premiere is on the London fringe.

For some reason the New York critics took against the original Broadway production. The positive response came from the audience because Yeston and Stone had got to the heart of the matter and without resorting to sentimentality and phoney romances. Cameron’s film opened eight months after the musical and the film may have encouraged audiences to see the show, giving it a successful two-year run. Transferring it to London was probably thought to be too expensive for a big stage to utilise all the Broadway effects. Even now it is moored in the new Elephant and Castle premises of Southwark Playhouse which, with its near neighbour, the Union, is the next best thing to London’s West End.

TITANIC at Southwark Playhouse; James Hume (Etches) and company. Photograph: Annabel VereThom Southerland has found a way of scaling the show down to fit a relatively small space. He has under his belt excellent stagings at various small venues of Parade, Me and Juliet, State Fair, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Mack and Mabel, Call Me Madam, Annie Get Your Gun, The Full Monty, Victor/Victoria, and The Pajama Game. Southerland seems to enjoy being given the smallest venues in town and producing something wonderful in them. Titanic is no exception. Employing twenty actors and six musicians this production exhibits real strength and gravitas. It is not silly and soft-hearted but a powerful drama in which the music is wholly integrated with the dialogue and the lyrics.

TITANIC at Southwark Playhouse; Philip Rham (Titanic's Captain Smith). Photograph: Annabel VereThe subject matter couldn’t be more serious, dealing with a tragedy of massive proportions in which some 1,500 people lost their lives and only 700 survived being on the world’s unluckiest ship. Yeston and Stone divide their cast of characters into three groups, the First Class who are the rich and famous watched by those in Second Class who yearn to rub shoulders with them. Then below decks are the Third Class passengers, excited about going to New York in order to improve their lives in the New World. Below them are the crew, the stokers and the engineers.

J. Bruce Ismay, chairman of the White Star company, Thomas Andrews, designer of the Titanic, and the ship’s Captain E. J. Smith pride themselves on the dream ship that is allegedly unsinkable. Ismay wants to reach New York within the week, to prove that the Titanic is the fastest ship on the ocean. He urges the captain to speed up even though Andrews warns of icebergs. With no moon it is difficult to spot them, until it is too late; Titanic strikes an iceberg which tears a gaping hole in the ship and it is not long before the Titanic is lost under the sea.

TITANIC at Southwark Playhouse; Sion Lloyd (Murdoch) , Philip Rham (Captain Smith) and Dominic Brewer (Lightoller). Photograph: Annabel VereYeston thought that as Titanic is such a British story, his music should reflect that and, although he doesn’t write pastiches of Elgar and Vaughan Williams, there is a nationalistic feeling about the score. The music is very attractive and carries the story through without any sense of anachronism. The book is a solid piece of work that allows all the classes to have their say in what is a company show. Simon Green stands out as Ismay, always trying to get more out of the ship to feed his ego.

Philip Rahm is excellent as Smith and Greg Castiglioni is fine as Andrews. These three are not ciphers but well-formed characters, human and ambitious and part of what was planned as a grand and glorious project. The rest of the cast play to strength with good work from Scarlet Courtney, Grace Eccle and Victoria Serra as the three Kates who are looking forward to their new lives in America. There is a touching scene played out by Dudley Rogers and Judith Street as Isidor and Ida Straus, the owners of Macy’s department store in New York. When the women and children are ordered into the lifeboats, Ida refuses to leave her husband because life without him would be no life at all.

The six-piece band performs with immense grace and for the finale we are treated to some delightful string-quartet music which the Titanic’s musicians played until the bitter end. This well-drilled production by Southerland and Cressida Carré keeps everything on the move as panic sets in. David Woodhead’s simple but ingenious set even manages to ‘sink’ in a movingly evocative way. Maybe the West End might eventually see Titanic. It’s certainly vaut le voyage.

  • Titanic is at the Southwark Playhouse, 77-85 Newington Causeway, London SE1 until Saturday 31 August 2013
  • Monday to Saturday at 8 p.m.; matinees Saturday 3.30, and extra matinee Tuesday 27 August at 2.30
  • Tickets bookable on 020 7407 0234
  • Southwark Playhouse

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