I think it’s probably fair to say that the last time I was on the verge of tears at the Charing Cross Theatre, it was because I was really sad that I was in the Charing Cross Theatre. For a very long time it went uncontested as the worst venue in London, its crowning achievement being ‘Dusty’, a dreadful musical about Dusty Springfield that somehow had the longest preview period of any theatre production in British history, and was still unmitigatedly awful.
So thank the heavens for new Charing Cross boss Thom Southerland. For years he’s been one of the most exciting musical theatre directors on the fringe, and I’d wondered what his next step would be. This is it: taking over the ailing Charing Cross, and getting his tenure off to a rousing start with a ready-made hit: a transfer of his excellent 2013 Southwark Playhouse revival of Peter Stone and Maury Yeston’s ‘Titanic’.
Though only linked to James Cameron’s film weepie by subject matter – the tragic 1912 sinking of the world’s biggest passenger liner on its maiden voyage – the deal is actually broadly the same. The first half is a kaleidoscopic look at the vibrant, hope-filled life on the ship, with particular emphasis on how the vast vessel serves as a microcosm of the class system. The second, more gripping half follows the foundering of the ship after being ripped open by an iceberg.
The show’s great strength and slight weakness is the volume of stories – it gets off to a slow start as it methodically works through something close to ten sub plots that follow the hopes and dreams of sundry passengers and crew.
But come the end this all pays off big time: we are invested in the fates of these people, and it makes the ending all that more devastating.
Song-wise there’s no toe-tappers, but a smart, lyrical score bought to impressive life by Southerland’s large company.
There’s a ways to go at the Charing Cross Theatre still – there’s a conspicuous lack of diversity in the cast, and ‘Titanic’ is a pre-made hit, not an in-house production. But certainly Southerland has captained his maiden voyage impressively well.