Thom Southerland’s impeccably directed production dropped its anchor into harbour at the Birmingham Hippodrome tonight and took us on a fascinating voyage though, let’s admit it, well charted and much sailed waters. This story has been told many times before not least of which in the famous 1997 film from James Cameron. This incarnation tells the well-worn story not through the eyes of two lovers or, indeed, any single character, but from the point of view of multi-protagonists. Therein lies the flaw in its structure. Through Jack and Rose in the movie we empathise with them as they epitomise the struggle, the anguish and the loss of all the victims of the disaster. Here we have innumerable characters we meet only for moments before we are introduced to others, and it proves difficult to invest in characters we meet so fleetingly. It does, however, leave a strong overview of the enormity of the story summed up adroitly by a screen at the end listing the names of all those drowned. It’s huge.
To begin it’s slow. It’s forty minutes to the first laugh and only then do the audience settle in. The start is full of characters telling other characters things that character already knows for the benefit of the audience. Sizes, dimensions and weighs are shared with characters who shouldn’t need to be told. Only after these set ups do characters start to emerge and tell the story, but the problem is we know the story and we look forward to it being told in a new and exciting way and it’s not really. The production is solid, inventive and full of choreographic and creative direction, but there’s no pull back and forth. The jeopardy is predetermined so it’s a one-way ticket in so many ways. Hanging over all this is the iceberg. Every line takes on a new meaning because we know what will happen and they know we know what will happen. Every hopeful, wistful line about looking forward to the new world and a new life becomes full of potent irony and the story leads inextricably to its inevitable conclusion.
All the performances are uniformly engaging but no one (apart from Graham Bickley, exceptional as the captain) gets more than a nibble of the ship’s biscuit. David Delve and Valda Avis shone as the elderly couple Ida and Isidor Strauss about whom we would have loved to have known more.
The inevitable happens and though it’s not a coup-de-theatre in its staging once again the director deploys all the skills they possess to make it feel dangerous, dramatic and treacherous. The singing is exquisite and, though some of the songs are far from memorable, some are spine-tingling. But the fundamental problem in the piece is the writing. The internal structure was simply not robust enough and, much like the eponymous ship, suffered for it. It is a strong production but a weak idea though everyone abroad is sailing at full strength.
Playing until 22nd April, https://titanicthemusical.co.uk/
Reviewer: Peter Kinnock
Reviewed: 18th April 2023
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★