There are multiple difficulties associated with the re-telling of a story that harbours an inevitably doomed plot; as a result, this musical version of Titanic at the Southwark Playhouse, penned by Maury Yeston (music) and Peter Stone (book), makes for rather sombre viewing at times. That said, the 20-strong cast belt out various musical numbers and effortlessly multirole, scaling up and down the social ladder to capture the hopes, dreams and dining conditions of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd class passengers and crew.
The smallish, chamber-like space at the Southwark Playhouse could have presented problems for this large cast and the epic tale that they must tell; yet director Thom Southerland, along with Cressida Carré as Musical Stager, deftly organises the seamless fluidity of the cast as they move from one set-up to the next. The stage, although rather bare, possesses two levels which are used to denote above- and below-deck, utilises some interesting components such as ropes, a moving stairwell, a look-out point, and moveable iron gates.
The music, and the superb band that create it, is at times dreamy, and often soaring, and meanders its way from the aspirations, longings and awe aboard the Titanic, to the catastrophic devastation and stoic resignation when she sinks. It is a touching moment when the women are being separated from their husbands and manhandled into the scarce lifeboats, and the 40 years of love that exists between Ida and Isador Straus, played delicately by Judith Street and Dudley Rogers respectively, as they await their deaths, is rather harrowing; ‘where you go, I go’ sings Ida to her husband – even if that means to the bottom of the Atlantic.
This production of Titanic, whilst slow-moving at times and with an inevitable end, boasts an array of wonderful voices and a real mixed bag of characters. Perhaps a transfer to a bigger, more grandiose space is needed however to really do this epic tale justice.
**** (4 stars)
Runs until 31st August 2013