The RMS Titanic. Owner J. Bruce Ismay wanted to create a legend – it was the largest moving object in the world when it was built. Sadly, the legend of the Titanic we know today is not the one he wanted. In one of the worst tragedies of the 20th Century, 1517 people died when the ship sank on 14 April 1912.
This production tells the story of the maiden voyage of the Titanic, and it does so with an extremely high production value. The set and costumes designed by David Woodhead are as epic as the ship itself, and are used to the maximum to indicate at every point where the action is taking place on the ship and which class the passengers are from. The lighting (Howard Hudson) and sound (Andrew Johnson) designs are clever and intricate, used to particularly excellent effect in the Act I finale – no spoilers!
The stories are well chosen by Peter Stone to highlight the human side of this tragedy – the young couple sailing to America to get married and start their life, the woman in third class escaping from past mistakes, the elderly couple married for 40 years… and several others. And if anything, that is the thing I took away from the production. The ensemble nature of the cast only serves to highlight the fact that when it came down to it, all the passengers were in the same boat. And every single one of the actors played their part beautifully, this production has a high-quality ensemble in the truest sense.
The show starts off fairly slowly, and a lot of Act I is used to set up the different elements of the story. Maury Yeston faced a real challenge with the music and lyrics. I am really not sure there is any way to make the dimensions of a boat sound enthusiastic in song and there were a couple of other places too where I was surprised at the use of lyrics in place of speech. But the musical elements of the production soar when the characters are at their most vulnerable and emotional – the song ‘The Blame’ in Act II is a perfect example of this, as the ship’s captain, its builder and its owner wrestle with the parts they have played in the unfolding tragedy.
The biggest difficulty by far though is how to end a production like this. Whatever creative license you can take in selecting the passengers’ and crew members’ stories, there is no shying away from the reality. The Titanic sank and people died. The show takes an appropriate approach to recognising the heartbreak and commemorating the tragedy. Having said that, and while I understand that you can’t send out an audience from a commercial musical in the depths of despair and catastrophe, I found the finale a little jarring in the way it reverted back to the hope and optimism of the opening numbers.
Ultimately, what this show seeks to do – to tell a true story from our shared history with sensitivity and humanity – it does very well. It’s true, there is little jeopardy in a story when we all know how it ends, but the cast and creative team have done their best to make an engaging production.
Titanic continues at The Lowry in Salford until Saturday 8th July. More information and ticket links can be found here: https://thelowry.com/whats-on/titanic/.
Reviewer: Jo Tillotson
Reviewed: 4th July 2023
North West End UK Rating: