Director Thom Southerland’s pared-back, ensemble-led production of Titanic the Musical opened at London’s 240-seater Southwark Playhouse in 2013 to huge acclaim, later transferring to the 265-seater Charing Cross Theatre. Now on its 10th anniversary UK and Ireland tour, the same production is playing to venues three times bigger, but with an emotional impact three times smaller.
The idea to strip Maury Yeston’s gargantuan, Tony award-winning spectacle down, to a tiny six-piece band and minimalistic set (David Woodhead), is a brilliant one. But, once the grand set pieces and orchestral swells of the original Broadway production are taken away, the cast are fully exposed. And in an ensemble-led musical like this, with twenty-five actors and twenty-five lead roles, you can’t afford a single weak link in the chain.
There are some extraordinary moments. As engine-room stoker Barrett, Adam Filipe urges the powers above not to “push her faster than seventy-five” with a powerhouse, charismatic tenor. Lucie-Mae Summer returns to play working-class Kate McGowan, an Irish immigrant dreaming of romance in America; effortlessly charismatic and full of humour, with a rousing belt to match.
It’s disappointing to hear sound tech mix-ups and vocal slips in such a well-established and well-loved production as this, as well as an overall strangely under-energised quality that seems to get swallowed up in a big, West-End style venue. By the time the “In Memoriam” curtain flies in, with the names of one and a half thousand lives lost, we should be wiping our tears, not checking our watches.
Touring the UK and Ireland 16 March – 5 August 2023.