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A CurtainUp London Review
"It is customary on a maiden voyage to proceed cautiously." — Stoker Barrett
Cast in Titanic (Photo: Scott Rylander)
My memory of the Southwark Playhouse production of Titanic is so vivid that I can barely believe that it was three years ago. Now this evocative musical is back but in the West End at the Charing Cross Theatre with their new artistic director, the talented Thom Southerland. Many of the original cast are reprising their roles in this boutique version which demonstrates how effective Maury Yeston's Titanic is in a scaled down setting. But the impact is not diminished of these stories of real people on board the ill-fated liner, recalling an era before the First World War and of the many stories of heroism and loss.

There are of course those who appear to behave less well. White Star Line's Ismay (David Bardsley) wishes for something he probably in retrospect wishes he had not, the maximum publicity, but for the speed of the voyage from Southampton England to New York. Ismay lives to testify at the enquiry into the disastrous sinking. Captain Smith (Philip Rham) takes the northerly course earlier in the year than usual in order to try to save time and to get back to England in under two weeks, and orders extra speed. The Captain also appears to ignore the warnings of icebergs the telegraph operator receives from other vessels. So many were lost and the lessons of the Titanic have shaped Health and Safety legislation for sea going vessels ever since.

It does sound like a curious subject for a musical but somehow Maury Yeston's score fits with the era: the jazzy dance rags in the ballroom, the lovely ballads, songs to loved ones. By telling the stories of a few, we get to know some of the passengers and crew and share in the grief at those who are lost. It is this emphasis in this production on the individuals which increases our suspension of disbelief and gives the musical a tremendous heart.

Those we know are doomed from the very beginning are those in Third Class, many of them from Ireland, represented by the three Kates, Kate Murphy (Jessica Paul), Kate Mullins (Scarlett Courtney) and Kate McGowan (Victoria Serra). They sing about their aspirations in America and are denied that opportunity by being locked downstairs unable to get up on deck to find a lifeboat. The stoker Barrett (Niall Sheehy) decides to propose to his girlfriend back home in "Barrett's Song" and his message is tapped out in Morse code by the telegraphist.

In second class there is the eloping couple Lady Caroline Neville (Helena Blackman) and journalist Charles Clarke (Douglas Hansell), she marrying against the wishes of her aristocratic family. Then there's the gossipy American matron Alice Beane (Clare Machin) anxious for a chance to mix with the rich and famous in First Class, much to the embarrassment of her reticent husband Edgar (Peter Prentice). Thomas Andrews the designer from Belfast shipyards Harland and Wolff, lost with his ship, is brilliantly sung by Sion Lloyd as we feel the personal tragedy for him facing up to the shortages of his liner.

In First Class are the rich and famous, the touching elderly couple who own Maceys, Isidor and Ida Straus (Dudley Rogers and Judith Street), Lord Astor and his very pregnant second wife, and Benjamin Guggenheim with his mistress.

The staging of "the floating city" is beyond brilliant, simple but truly effective. There is choreography too in the ball room and the staging of the collision is memorable both visually and in sound. Blame fills the air as Ismay blames Andrews. Then there are the tragic stories of those left behind. "More than anything he wanted a legend and now he's got one", is said of Mr Ismay.

711 survivors, 1517 lost.

This production deserves to be unsinkable.

For my review of this production of Titanic in 2013 go here.

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Music and Lyrics by Maury Yeston
Story and book by Peter Stone
New musical arrangements by Ian Weinberger
Directed by Thom Southerland
With: David Bardsley, Alistair Barron, Helena Blackman, Scarlett Courtney, Scott Cripps, Matthew Crowe, James Gant, Luke George, Douglas Hansell, Rob Houchen, Sion Lloyd, Claire Machin, Shane McDaid, Jessica Paul, Peter Prentice, Philip Rham, Dudley Rogers, Victoria Serra, Niall Sheehy, Judith Street
Musical Stager: Cressida Carre
Musical Supervisor: Mark Aspinall
Musical Director: Joanna Cichonska
Design: David Woodhead
Lighting: Howard Hudson
Sound: Andrew Johnson
Running time: Two hours 40 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 08444 930 650
Booking to 6th August 2016
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 6th June 2016 performance at Charing Cross Theatre, The arches, Villiers Street, London WC2N 6NL (Rail/Tube: Charing Cross, Embankment)

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