Spoiler alert: not every character you meet in this show is likely to survive the Titanic’s maiden voyage. But everyone knows what happens, right? That didn’t stop Kate & Leo’s film from being a huge hit, and it doesn’t dim the fascination of this 20th century tragedy.
This musical version of Titanic originally ran for two years on Broadway from 1997 and won five Tony awards, but it never received a West End run, instead being revived occasionally in more intimate venues. It’s an epic story that nonetheless benefits from an up-close-and-personal staging, and this amateur production from Sedos is dramatically involving and excellently produced.
It begins with a palpable sense of hope and optimism. Variously described as a ‘floating city’, a ‘ship of dreams’ and ‘the largest moving object in the world’, Titanic is regarded as a marvel of engineering. As the departure time nears, we are introduced to the excited passengers taking part in this historic moment – their dreams helpfully delineated along class lines, as each group views the journey to America from its own perspective.
Also on board are the ship’s designer Thomas Andrews (Luke Leahy) and J Bruce Ismay (Richard Upton), managing director for Titanic’s owners: the White Star Line. Throughout the story, Ismay encourages Captain EJ Smith (Daniel Saunders) to increase speed, desperate to make the crossing in a headline-grabbing six days. This recklessness is framed as a possible contributing factor to the ship’s fate, which is an interesting extra level of hubris alongside the usually cited arrogance of referring to Titanic as ‘unsinkable’.
With a numerous cast, characters are necessarily thumbnail sketches, but they’re well-drawn. As well as the spread of classes, there’s a lot of love going on– from bright new affections among the young, to middle-aged couples cementing their relationships and to more mature passengers looking back on their partnerships fondly.
One of the most impressive achievements of this production is when the whole company (I counted 33!) are on stage, and the sheer volume of bodies creates a powerful force. There’s a lot of talent on display, and the combination of so many strong voices is irresistible. There’s also a scene with some particularly joyful dancing.
We all know what’s coming, but when the iceberg strikes it’s still a shocking moment. From then on, the narrative becomes a lesson in dramatic irony: we know most are heading for watery graves, but they’re ignorant of their fates. Skillful staging brings the tragedy to an intense level of poignancy, and the human cost is powerfully conveyed.
This is a superbly accomplished production, proving what satisfying results am-dram can achieve with this level of talent and commitment. The simple but versatile set is well employed, giving the impression of multiple locations. Kudos to directors Louise Roberts and Rob Archibald for bringing such an ambitious project to fruition.
Among the many well-played roles, I particularly enjoyed the affection of mature couple Ida and Isidor Straus (Annie Houseago and Tony Rosenberg) – the latter a co-owner of the famous department store, Macys. Meanwhile, James Daly as the telegraph operator provides some very entertaining light relief.
My only real quibble is with the score: for a tragedy both epic and personal, it’s a shame there are no really soaring melodies to sweep us up in the drama of it all. The singing and the band are great, but I wouldn’t be able to hum a single tune from the show for all the silver in the First Class dining lounge.
Music/Lyrics by: Maury Yeston
Book by: Peter Stone
Directed by: Louise Roberts, Rob Archibald
Titanic plays at Bridewell Theatre until 2 December. Further information and bookings can be found here.