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Titanic

1/10
© Annabel Vere

'Titanic' at Southwark Playhouse

2/10
© Annabel Vere
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© Annabel Vere
4/10
© Annabel Vere
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© Annabel Vere
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© Annabel Vere
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© Annabel Vere
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© Annabel Vere
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© Annabel Vere

The newly relocated Southwark Playhouse’s maiden voyage hit some pretty choppy waters. After reopening in May, the first production, ‘Tanzi Libre’, was cancelled due to injury, while the follow up, ‘The Moment of Truth’, was received tepidly – a problem when you’re the biggest fringe theatre in London and have a lot of seats to fill.

It’s ironic then that ‘Titanic’ should be the show to steady the ship. Ironic, but not surprising: musical theatre director Thom Southerland and his team were a major reason for the Playhouse’s success at its previous venue, scoring hit after hit with high-class, high-octane productions of obscure American musicals.

This intimate revival of Maury Yeston’s 1997 musical about maritime history’s most obsessed-upon health and safety failure essentially repeats the trick. It dispenses with the spectacle that defined the show’s notoriously expensive Broadway run, instead relying upon intimacy, energy and a polished cast of unknowns for its special effects.

That’s enough to force a success out of the first half: Yeston’s literate lyrics are beautifully crafted, and having the cast of 20 belt them out a couple of metres away from your face is irresistibly spine-tingling. However, ‘Titanic’ is as short of memorable tunes as its namesake was of lifeboats, which also draws attention to the lack of plot. Instead, disparate groups of couples potter around, dispensing variants on ‘ooh, look at this ship’.

But the more characters we’re introduced to in the first half, the more get to die nobly in the barnstorming tear-jerker of a second. With the vessel finally sinking, the production gains a sense of purpose, Yeston’s sophisticated wordplay coming into its own as class tensions erupt in the scrabble for lifeboats, and the triumvirate of ship Captain Smith (Philip Rham), shipbuilder Thomas Andrews (Greg Castiglioni) and owner J Bruce Ismay (Simon Green) emerge as the show’s tragic anti-heroes, spurred on to disaster by ruinous pride.

‘Titanic’ could definitely do with a prune, but Southerland’s typically enjoyable production papers over most of the cracks – a night to remember..

By Andrzej Lukowski

Average User Rating

4.8 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:3
  • 4 star:1
  • 3 star:0
  • 2 star:0
  • 1 star:0
LiveReviews|4
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Amanda Kay

Not having researched the music or plot beforehand (although I was pretty sure I’d know the overall gist of the latter), I had very little idea of what to expect. I’d heard that the orchestral parts had been massively reduced, and that there was a cast of 20 on a minimalist stage, and feared the worst, but was egged on by early favourable reviews and a friend who assured me it would be worth the hit my almost empty bank account would take for a ticket. All anxieties disappeared as soon as the opening number got going. Yes, it’s a long one and yes, the content mostly involves characters saying ‘ooh, look at this ship?’ ‘isn’t it a good ship?’ ‘oh aye, it’s grand’ etc, etc. But the (very clever) staging, understated but compelling characterisations, and frankly some of the most beautiful singing I’ve ever heard in a musical, more than made up for the occasional monotony of the lyrics or ‘bitty’ feel of some of the music. And these elements continued to carry the show through almost all rough patches. In all, I think it’s the cast and production team involved, rather than the raw material, that makes this musical so astounding (although one cannot deny that the music and lyrics tug at the heartstrings when necessary), but astounding it most certainly is, and I urge you to get a ticket whilst it’s still on. That way you can pull the same face I did to the friend sitting next to me at the end of the first number, which looked something like a cross between an excited puppy and a shocked goldfish. Unattractive, maybe, but strangely eloquent considering the wonderful spectacle we’d just enjoyed. Charming stuff.

Jasmine Brady

This was wonderful wonderful wonderful I'm going to recommend it to everyone I see. Be prepared to cry but it's so so worth it. The theatre's a lovely setting and the music's beautiful. Best thing I've seen for a long time.

Andy James

A Fabulous afternoon I had! From the moment the Overture starts, the spine tingles! Each solo, duet or trio is a joy, and each character (all real names) grip you with their story, whether crew, wealthy 1st or escaping poverty 3rd class. Thank you, Peter and Maury, creators, and the musicians!

Philip Eaton

I loved this show. Beautifully sung with amazing ensemble work. With such an intimate setting, one couldn't help being drawn into the drama. Brilliant casting! Cast and writers of 'Wag the musical', please take note! This is how to do it.