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A CurtainUp London London Review

"It is the maiden voyage which creates news and I want this one to be a legend." — Ismay
Cast in the Lifeboat scene (Photo: Annabel Vere)
Thom Southerland has a magic touch. I remember two years ago the lovely version of Parade set in 1913 which he mounted in the "old" space that was the Southwark Playhouse. Now he takes another musical with a dark theme set in 1912, Maury Yeston's Titanic and gives it new life in a London chamber production. From the fabulous choral opening number "God Speed Titanic", we know that we are in for a real treat musically.

We meet two of the main characters, the Managing Director of the White Star Line, Mr Ismay (Simon Green) who is forever urging the Captain Edward Smith (Philip Rham) to make the ship go faster and break records, and Barrett (James Austen-Murray) the leading stoker, a man from Nottinghamshire who has left his fiancée behind, who is tasked with speeding the ocean going city. Barrett sings his song, "Barrett's Song" standing on a table laid for dinner. Designer Andrews (Greg Castiglioni) is seen at his drawing board at the opening of the show.

In this scaled down space with riveted walls and a single moveable ship's metal stair to connect an upper deck with the main stage, we are very close to the action, close enough to spot the doubling up of some of the roles. Clever staging means we never question that we are on board the liner. But backstage the costume changes must have been hectic as the 20 strong cast reappear in different costume. The three Kates (Scarlett Courtney, Grace Eccle and Victoria Serra) are Irish girls in Third Class with ambitions based on a new life in New York and will double as the elegantly dressed First Class passengers, wives and mistresses of rich men like Benjamin Guggenheim and JJ Astor both of whom died on board ship.

The first few songs describe the ship, the voyage, the immense engineering achievement of this ship which was 882 feet long with nine decks, the class system of Edwardian England and the social ranking of the passengers. "What A Remarkable Age This Is" sees First Class Steward Etches (James Hume) introducing the First Class Passengers. I loved the mysterious Mrs Cardoza (Victoria Serra) with her brilliant, huge red hat and stately swagger. I thrilled to "Doing the Latest Rag" with the dance rhythms as the passengers settle into the voyage but "No Moon #1 and #2" have portents and sandwich the tune "Autumn" which the ship's orchestra famously played last. The finale to the first act sees the ship strike the iceberg but the full extent of the damage is not apparent.

In the Second Act, the extent of the disaster becomes frighteningly apparent and "The Blame" sees finger pointing between the designer, the owner and the captain. "To The Lifeboats" and "We'll Meet Tomorrow" has the most moving scenes as the passengers wearing old fashioned lifejackets assemble on deck, women parting from their menfolk. If an emotional connection was hard to make in the Broadway production, it isn't the case here because we are so close to the cast, physically and emotionally. So much credit must go to Thom Southerland for the suspension of disbelief in this tiny space. The Finale sees the dead reunited with the survivors and the names of those who died are projected onto the floor of the stage as we leave.

These actors never come out of role when they sing; I was impressed by the way they acted while singing, their expressions were always in mood. I liked Maury Yeston's music, super tunes that I'd like to hear again. Can Southwark Playhouse's show make a well deserved transfer to the West End or could this Titanic actually sail back to New York?

For the review of the New York production and the full song list go here.

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Music and Lyrics by Maury Yeston
Book by Peter Stone
Directed by Thom Southerland

Starring: James Austen-Murray, Dominic Brewer, Greg Castiglioni, Scarlett Courtney, Matthew Crowe, Jonathan David Dudley, Grace Eccle, Celia Graham, Simon Green, Oliver Hemborough, James Hume, sion Lloyd, Claire Marlowe, Shane McDaid, Leo Miles, Naoim Naaman, Philip Rham, Dudley Rogers, Victoria Serra, Judith Street
Set and Costume Design: David Woodhead
Musical Stager: Cressida Carre
Sound: Andrew Johnson
Lighting: Howard Hudson
Musical Director: Mark Aspinall
Projection Design: Victor Craven
Running time: Two hours 45 minutes including one interval
Box Office: 020 7407 0234
Booking to 31st August 2013
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 18th July performance at Southwark Playhouse - The Large Space, 77-85 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6BD (Tube: Borough or The Elephant and Castle)

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