It seems like ages since I went to the theatre. It was actually only about a month ago but that’s a fair while for me! But yesterday I was back in London to see two more shows – the first I shall write about here as both deserve their own post.
I recently interviewed Nadim Naaman (if you didn’t see this you can read it here: http://wp.me/p2RIFK-3o ) who is appearing in the musical ‘Titanic’. Held at the Southwark Playhouse, this production is only on for a limited time but I am SO glad that I got to see it. The theatre itself is small but the audience is set around the stage on three sides so the action all happens in a central location and the view from all seats is excellent. For a production such as this (which would also work on a grand scale) it means that you really do feel involved in the show.
Of course, everyone knows the story of Titanic, the unsinkable ship, which sank during her maiden voyage. Not really a spoiler as this production is of course true to history and yes, she still sinks. What makes this special and so watchable despite knowing how it will end is the characterisation of all the passengers and crew. The audience is introduced to the sailors, porters, stokers and passengers individually, each with their own stories and reasons for travelling.
The ensemble are fantastically strong and the harmonies and power in all of their numbers is immense. The score is beautiful – from the excitement of this huge creation to the panic and finally sadness of her loss the essence is captured perfectly. All cast members get a chance for a solo which is a lovely touch as each deserves to be heard and the talent of the company is plain to see. Opening with Mr Ismay (Simon Green), owner of the Titanic, marvelling about human’s advances in engineering followed by the ensemble arriving, boarding and finally setting sail this production captivates from the outset.
Clever use of the stage ensures that no matter where you are sitting, you still get a view of every person on stage, there is plenty of movement and the direction and choreography has been well thought out. The space is used to its maximum potential with an upper level used as the bridge or a different deck and a movable staircase also used to it’s full scope to portray different decks or the lookout. It is certainly very obvious who is where at any one time.
It is almost impossible to write about individual performances due to the nature of the casting but Green’s Ismay certainly makes you dislike him as intensely as Barrett (played by James Austen Murray) makes you like him. The passengers are all extremely amiable and relatable folk – the rather irritating yet comical Alice Beane (Celia Graham) who is obsessed with the first class travellers and her long suffering husband Edgar (Oliver Hemborough). Kate McGowan (Victoria Serra) has a particularly endearing relationship with Jim Farrell (Shane McDaid) and the two other Irish Kates – played by Grace Eccle and Scarlett Courtney are both sweet characters. The relationship between Caroline Neville (Claire Marlowe) and Charles Clarke (Nadim Naaman) is a rather more difficult one, though the love between them is plain to see. My favourite and, for me the most moving, were elderly couple Isidor and Ida Straus (Dudley Rogers and Judith Street) as their love has spanned forty years and never wained.
Mr Andrews, the ship’s builder (Greg Castiglioni) is convincing and easy to empathise with as is Captain Smith (Philip Rham). Backed by his masters Murdoch (Sion Lloyd) and Lightoller (Dominic Brewer) along with other crew members Etches (James Hume), Bride (Matthew Crowe), Fleet (Leo Miles) and Hartley (Jonathan David Dudley who also doubled as the bellboy) everyone had definite roles and positions and there was no weak link.
The class divide is always easy to see though the cast (apart from Ismay, Andrews, Captain and the masters) all double up and move with ease and fluidity from role to role, sometimes changing class as well as character. The six strong band accompany the whole piece with flawless playing throughout and really help to add to the scenes, whether with incidental music or backing the ensemble. By the time you hear the iconic words – ‘Iceberg, right ahead’ the atmosphere is overwhelming and you are willing that this time, please, the tragedy does not occur.
I would imagine that attempting to recreate a sinking ship in the confines of a theatre is no easy feat, but Thom Sutherland has done an outstanding job. The tension and fear within the cast is painful to watch and you really feel as though you are there, losing the ones you love, as you watch their fate being played out. Use of ropes and slow motion simulate the lowering of the lifeboats, the ship upending and people and objects falling about. Lighting and sound effects contribute to the effect, as does a large movable piece of scenery.
In all this piece of theatre is unmissable. Maury Yeston’s score may not be as well known as the ‘story’ of the Titanic but it is truly an incredible piece of writing. I loved the way that the real facts of history along with genuine passengers on the Titanic are used to recreate the events of 101 years ago. If you only buy one ticket this year then please make it to this production as this absolutely deserves to be seen. Sadly I don’t think I will be able to make it back, but if I can then I’ll be there with bells on. Superb.
Titanic is on at the Southwark Playhouse from 26th July to 31 Aug 2013.
Buy tickets here: http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/the-large/titanic/