Within minutes of the cast of Titanic the Musical gathering on the Hull New Theatre stage, on Monday night, I was sucked into the story and found myself wondering who would live and who would die.
There can’t be a soul on Earth who hasn’t heard of the 1912 tragedy involving the RMS Titanic, billed as the “unsinkable, largest moving object in the world”; so, me questioning who survives and who pops their clogs in the icy cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean, is no spoiler.
At “curtain up” the quayside of Southampton bustled with tradesmen carrying their wares on to the ship, which was on its maiden voyage, heading for New York.
Two such individuals ran off the stage and past us in the audience, carrying crates of oranges and cauliflowers. What a clever move – it felt as if we were actually on board the soon-to-be-stricken ship, which immersed us deeper into the story very early on.
Then came 1st, 2nd and 3rd passengers, baggage handlers, crew members and so on, until, in a hail of “ticker tape” the ship set sail.
The stage setting throughout comprised the ship’s railings, gangplank, a few lamps and a backdrop of thousands of grey metal rivets.
Colour and some luxury appeared when the table was set for the 1st class passengers – flowers, table lamps, champagne glasses and the beautiful evening apparel of the ladies lifted the atmosphere.
The other, less well-off, passengers weren’t as opulently attired, with the 3rd class passengers mainly in dowdy browns. I hated seeing such class distinctions between those with money and those without, especially when wealth, or the lack of it, later became a matter of life or death.
But it is a major part of the story.
As the Titanic sailed on, to its eventual doom, passengers and crew alike share their hopes and dreams for their futures in the New World.
I did wonder how such a huge tragedy as the sinking of the Titanic could be told in, maybe frivolous, musical terms, but I needn’t have worried. With glorious singing voices all round, doing justice to more than 20 original songs (accompanied by rousing live music), it didn’t seem at all disrespectful. There was plenty of talking – serious and otherwise – as well; striking an ideal balance.
The three stand-out characters for the story are J Bruce Ismay (Martin Allanson), chairman of the White Star Line who own the Titanic; Captain Edward Smith (Graham Bickley) and the ship’s designer Thomas Andrews (Ian McLarnon), although everyone on stage on the night proved an essential part of proceedings and I wish I could namecheck them all.
It is Ismay who urges the captain to increase the ship’s speed to 23 knots in order to arrive early in New York and the rest is history.
This production was faultless. And the amazing scene when the iceberg hits will stick in my memory for ever – a raised section tilted, stern up, with Andrews clinging on to the railings, feet above the stage floor.
Loudly tuneful as Titanic the Musical is, there was deathly silence in the packed theatre when a huge banner was lowered on to the stage, bearing all the names of the 1,500-plus people who lost their lives in the disaster. I still have goosebumps thinking about that scene.
Running until Saturday, June 3rd, 2023; 7.30pm nightly with 2.30pm matinees on Thursday, 1st and Saturday, 3rd. Tickets from £17.50. Call (01482) 300306 or visit www.hulltheatres.co.uk
Age guidance 8+
Reviewer: Jackie Foottit
Reviewed: 29th May 2023
North West End UK Rating: