Friday, 24 June 2016

Titanic

Good performances and songs, plus an imaginative set, but this production is lacking in real emotion

Written by Richard Barber
Richard-Barber-colour-176Two icebergs, as it were, lurk beneath the water threatening to fatally hole a musical about the Titanic before anyone even opens their lungs to sing.

The first is that we all know how the story’s going to end. The second is the hit film, which casts a long shadow and which inevitably means you scan the stage when the house lights go down wondering who’ll be taking the Kate Winslet role, and who has Leonardo DiCaprio’s. And when will they burst into a rendition of My Heart Will Go On?

Silly, of course, because this is composer and lyricist Maury Yeston’s imagining of that fateful maiden voyage. And very decent it is, too. Decent, dignified but somehow ever so slightly underwhelming. I admired the efforts of a strong ensemble company without ever quite being as moved as the subject surely demands.

Staged at the bijou Charing Cross Theatre, director Thom Southerland has wrought wonders with an imaginative set and a large cast, many of whom double up the characters they’re playing. There’s an excellent orchestra (unseen) under Joanna Cichonska’s youthful baton, which helps create the feeling of a chamber piece rather than a more traditional West End musical.

And some of the songs – from the wistful Autumn (nicely sung by Luke George) to the skittish Doing The Latest Rag and the stately Godspeed Titanic – capture well the prevailing mood. So do most of the performances. My eye was caught by Victoria Serra’s bright-eyed, pregnant Irish girl headed for better things in America where she dreamed of becoming a lady’s maid.

Matthew Crowe, meanwhile, presents a fully rounded portrait of a lonely man who only came alive when he discovered the joys of operating a ship-to-shore telegraph. His duet with Niall Sheehy’s Barrett, intent on sending a message home to his fiancée – someone, of course, he’ll never see again – is deftly done. And James Gant as the Purser manages to inject humour into what is an increasingly doom-laden storyline.

I’ll admit to a slight gulp when a sheet bearing the 1,500-plus names of those who perished is lowered from the heights. And I was on the point of heckling the ship’s self-serving owner Ismay (David Bardsley), when he made sure he’d secured a place on one of the lifeboats. But I’d expected to leave the theatre with my withers well and truly wrung. And they weren’t. What can I say?

Until 6 August at the Charing Cross Theatre, Villiers Street, London WC2: 0844-493 0650, www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk


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