PLYMOUTH & TOURING
THEATRE ROYAL PLYMOUTH – 23 JUNE
TITANIC – THE MUSICAL – Music & Lyrics by Maury Yeston, Book by Peter Stone
RUNNING TIME – 2 hours 30 minutes – 1 interval
Theatre Royal Plymouth Box Office – 01752 267222
REVIEW – CORMAC RICHARDS – 18 JUNE 2018
A Terrific ‘Ship of Dreams’
It is amazing to think that it is over 20 years since this musical opened on Broadway and yet this is its first tour in the UK and has never played in a major London venue. When I saw this production at the modestly sized Charing Cross Theatre I was bowled over, but concerned that it would lose some its power and intimacy in a space the size of the Lyric auditorium at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth.
I need not have worried.
The story of the Titanic is well-known and the writers have crafted a carefully interwoven plot involving the passengers from all classes, the crew and the management of the White Star Company and the Ship. All characters are based on those who travelled on the fateful voyage and all with a story of their own to tell. The first half of the show gives time to get to know some which draws the emotions when tragedy strikes.
The industrial set of rivetted steel, comprising proscenium, backdrop and raised deck, is designed so well to allow easy access for cast and furniture – which is moved with incredibly speed and precision – it is given height with huge ropes reaching up high above the stage. The clever use of a set of mobile steps is one of many strokes of genius – it allows for an unfussy production, full of pace.
The lighting design by Howard Hudson is superb and the operation of it, with some mightily important cues, was excellent. Lighting can bring so much to a show where there is but one set, and here is a perfect example of a designer at the top of their game. Together with the sound design of Andrew Johnson they create effects which are unlikely to be forgotten.
It took the ingenuity and imagination of director Thom Sutherland to create this production which premiered at The Southwark Playhouse in London in 2013 and thence made its way to Charing Cross in 2016. There is no doubt that you could perform the piece with a huge cast and orchestra, but here Sutherland skilfully uses just 25 – often cleverly doubling – and a fantastic band of just 6. It is a credit to all concerned that it never appears to be under populated. A number of the cast were present in the London productions and are wonderfully comfortable in their roles.
The score is rich in colour and in styles. Here a bit of Gilbert & Sullivan, there some Ragtime, nods to Sondheim as well, and it’s a score with wit and invention and sung with passion, conviction and tenderness. The musicians are to be congratulated for producing a theatre-filling sound.
This is an ensemble cast crafting splendid characterisations and carrying out rapid scene changes which results in the highest standard of performance. I should like to single out a few of the multitude. Greg Castiglioni is powerful as the inspiring and troubled architect Thomas Andrew. Claire Machin is delightful as the gossip-obsessed Alice Beane and provides some of the important light relief to the proceedings. I was taken with Oliver Marshall as the sensitive wireless operator Bride and his duet with stoker Fred Barrett (an impressive looking and singing, Niall Sheehy) was just beautiful. As the 14yo Bellboy, Lewis Cornay is ever-present and his performance is a winning one, never losing his smile and love of life. Finally, I have to mention the duo of Dudley Rogers and Judith Street who, as Isidor and Ida Strauss, draw out all the emotions from the audience in their duet ‘Still’ as they prepare for death. But there are no weak links here.
A sceptical friend of mine suggested that a musical about a tragedy demeaned the event. The lowering of the gigantic banner listing all the names of those who died in April 1912 aborts such thoughts as it is a reflective, moving and rightful tribute, showing the writers have taken the story very seriously.
This is an inventive, moving and beautifully produced piece of theatre. The Plymouth audience could not avoid standing and cheering at the end. They had been entranced and entertained from beginning to end. Bravo!
CHARLES LIGHTOLLER – ALISTAIR BROWN
WILLIAM MURDOCH – KIERAN BROWN
THOMAS ANDREWS – GREG CASTIGLIONI
BELL BOY/ WALLACE HARTLEY – LEWIS CORNAY
JOSEPH BOXHALL – ALEXANDER EVANS
J BRUCE ISMAY – SIMON GREEN
KATE MULLINS – EMMA HAROLD
KATE MURPHY – DEVON-ELISE JOHNSON
ALICE BEANE – CLAIRE MACHIN
LADY CAROLINE NEVILLE – CLAIRE MARLOWE
HAROLD BRIDE – OLIVER MARSHALL
JIM FARRELL – CHRIS MCGUIGAN
HENRY ETCHES – MATTHEW MCDONALD
FREDERICK FLEET – JOEL PARRIS
EDGAR BEANE – TIMOTHY QUINLAN
CAPTAIN EDWARD SMITH – PHILIP RHAM
ISIDOR STRAUS – DUDLEY ROGERS
KATE MCGOWAN – GEMMA MCMEEL
FREDERICK – BARRETT – NIALL SHEEHY
IDA STRAUS – JUDITH STREET
CHARLES CLARK – STEPHEN WEBB
JOSEPH BELL – SAMUEL J WEIR
DIRECTOR – THOM SOUTHERLAND
SET & COSTUME DESIGNER – DAVID WOODHEAD
LIGHTING DESIGNER – HOWARD HUDSON
SOUND DESIGNER – ANDREW JOHNSON
MUSICAL STAGING – CRESSIDA CARRÉ
MUSICAL DIRECTOR – MARK ASPINALL