At a macro level, a show called Titanic is a bit of a reviewer’s dream – what spoilers could there possibly be? If it ends in anything other than the loss of 1,517 lives, then the show is obviously telling a different story to the one its title suggests. Here’s a spoiler after all, then: it’s not exactly a finish that leaves the audience with a spring in their step and smiles on their faces. This would be unusual for me these days, because of the number of invitations I receive to various productions (my apologies if I sound like a right smug git), but I only ever saw this production in the first place because other theatregoers urged me to go to Southwark Playhouse and check out this phenomenal show.
I would have booked a second time if the remaining performances in the Southwark run hadn’t sold out already. So, it was almost three years before I saw it again, at press night at Charing Cross Theatre. There was an opportunity to see a ‘midnight matinee’ at the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton on Saturday 14 April 2018, to mark the 106th anniversary of the actual sinking, but as I don’t trust South Western Railway to get me to Surbiton let alone Southampton, I plumped for a performance of this touring production in Sheffield instead.
As well as having the same director (Thom Sutherland), set and costume designer (David Woodhead), musical director (Mark Aspinall), and so on, the show has even managed to retain some of the cast from the 2013 Southwark Playhouse run. Dudley Rogers and Judith Street reprise Isidor and Ida Straus, and their rendering of ‘Still’ in the second half is, well, still glorious. Simon Green reprises his J Bruce Ismay, chairman and managing director of the White Star Line. Captain Edward Smith is once more played by Philip Rham, and Victoria Serra reprises her Kate McGowan, one of three Kates, all Irish, all off to pursue the American Dream and all in third-class accommodation. From the 2016 Charing Cross Theatre cast, Alistair Barron, who played Charles Lightoller, reprises that role. Claire Machin reprises the well-informed motormouth Alice Beane, and Niall Sheehy returns to the show, reprising the role of Frederick Barrett, a stoker.
What this touring version demonstrates best is how well the set works well in a proscenium arch theatre like the Lyceum in Sheffield. It never did attempt to replicate approximately (let alone exactly) how the first-class dining experience would have been like in terms of décor and ambience – even so, this is a show that wouldn’t be out of place in the West End. This discerning Saturday audience rose to its feet at the curtain call for a reason – not because anybody encouraged a standing ovation, however subtly or unsubtly, but because this was a genuinely justified response to the production, which could evidently have yet another run as a West End show, even if only for a limited run.
I still chuckled at the “dit-dit-dah-dit, dah-dit”-ing of Harold Bride (Oliver Marshall), singing Morse code (don’t ask). But what I hadn’t picked up on previously was how quickly some of the costume changes must be: certain members of the cast play Character X in first class and Character Y in third class, so every time the production switches between one and the other, some of the same faces are there, but dressed markedly differently.
Class differences are emphasised with relative simplicity. An example: when the Captain’s order for all passengers to put lifejackets on is carried out, the first-class passengers are given individual assistance to put them on, the second-class have theirs personally given to them but must work out how to wear them, while the third-class have their lifejackets thrown in their general direction, such that they must retrieve them from the floor, disentangle them, and distribute them amongst themselves.
It remains a quirky choice for a musical, though the soaring melodies combine with sublime performances from a strong cast to provide an outstanding and highly emotionally charged experience. As the Duke of Sussex apparently said immediately after the sermon by Bishop Michael Curry at the royal wedding recently, “Wow.”