... this 1997 musical about the sinking of the Titanic... is surprisingly buoyant... The last half hour is slightly tortuous and never-ending. But that's all I'm going to complain about – oh, apart from the too-camp teenage bell-boy and the rather unnecessary tilting of bits of the set to suggest what we already know is happening; we're going down, folks... a tingling, involving theatrical experience, a musical meditation on our obsession with progress and improvement, even though some impressive anthems and chorales fail to make up for a distinct lack of take-home melody. There's much craft, and much heart, and some beautiful touches of making sense of a journey into the unknown that started out as an experimental adventure for all concerned. And that's what the show so metaphorically, and brilliantly, encapsulates.
... The songs are, on the whole, emotion-packed yet strangely unmoving, and there are a lot of them to get through, given that there are a host of characters, including three Irish Kates. What a Remarkable Age This Is is a jolly number sung by the toffs, although rather like the ship's unsinkability, there's a stodgy amount of marvelling at the technological feats of the "largest moving object in the world". With so many people vying for our attention it's hard to get an emotional handle on anyone. The ship's telegraphy office offers a couple of quietly moving scenes and Victoria Serra is spirited as the feistiest Kate. I wish I could say this was the one time the captain heeded the iceberg warnings. But he doesn't, which means yet another round of stoic deaths.
… This is a musical that gives the unheard and forgotten a voice, and which sombrely projects the names of all those who lost their lives on the floor of the stage at the end (a nice touch). I love, too, the way the music turns to eloquent silence as the survivors – broken, battered but alive – gather on the deck of the rescue ship to contemplate their losses… the classiness of the score and book ensure it is never mawkish, and Southerland's beautifully sung revival keeps things simple and fluid on David Woodhead's cleverly austere design… there are some seriously cracking performances from a first-class ensemble. None is better than Simon Green as Ismay; there are spine-tingling scenes at the start and finish when he stalks the stage like a ghost who is haunting himself.
…While the original Broadway production was a lavish affair, Thom Southerland's revival for the Southwark Playhouse has elegantly minimalist designs by David Woodhead - the scale of the ship intimated, rather than imitated, by a spare collection of ropes, rails and a mobile platform. All other effects are achieved with Howard Hudson's beautiful lighting. The cast is pared-down too, metamorphosing from first class to third and back again with nippy quick-changes of costume and accent… With exhilaratingly crisp performances from the ensemble cast and band (it is almost unfair to mention individual performances, but Dudley Rogers as Isidore and Judith Street as Ida are particularly touching), Southerland directs with infallible emotional nuance and brings a real touch of Broadway glitter to the faintly utilitarian surroundings of the Southwark Playhouse.
... The contrast between the epic nature of the story and the intimacy of the venue is superbly exploited, generating an emotional power that threatens to blast the roof off... It's a gift on stirring display here in a show where the "ship of dreams" itself (as a symbol of glorious aspiration, class-conflict and human hubris) is the protagonist rather than any of the teeming cross-section of passengers it deftly marshals... The cracking cast do splendid justice to a beguiling score whose influences range from Stanford and Elgar to Scott Joplin and Gilbert and Sullivan. From my look-out post, I'd judge that the enterprise is on a collision course with glory.
Titanic continues at Southwark Playhouse until 31 August. See also: Edward Seckerson speaks to Titanic and Nine composer Maury Yeston.