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REVIEW: Titanic The Musical at Newcastle Theatre Royal

Titanic The Musical 
Newcastle Theatre Royal 
Until Saturday 1 April 2023.
The Titanic crashes into Newcastle this week with a musical version of the events of 1912. This is a rare review as I imagine nearly everyone knows how the story ends. Spoilers, which we try to avoid, are not the issue. The question is more about whether the show is up to muster.
It is a well known story - a number of films have been made about it. Indeed I read a substantial book about the events leading up to, during and after the 15th April. This musical, with music and lyrics by Maury Yeston and a book by Peter Stone, was created after the inspirational discovery of the boat on the floor of the ocean in the 80s. It came out in the same year (1997) as the last big movie release. Beyond the historic scenario - the musical has nothing to do with the movie. 
The musical is light on the background before the titanic set sail. A number of details (coal strike, financial difficulties of the operator etc) are not given. It is simply the biggest moving object, at the time, in the world and a marvel of the times, as it sets off on its maiden voyage - heading to America.

The boat is a civilisation in it's own right but it is split up along the class system of the time. At the top are the first class passengers who can stroll down the top deck and admire the lifeboats. At the bottom are the steerage third class passengers who are trying to emigrate and make a fresh start in the US. The second class are the ambitious ones who are close to the top but never push through the glass ceiling.
Their is the hierarchy amongst the staff too. Captain Smith (Graham Bickley) and the the officers, the stewards above the maids and the bellboys. Beneath them all, like of Fritz Lang's Metropolis are the men in the engine room - firemen and trimmers who are expected to follow the orders for more speed.
Also along the maiden ride is the ship's owner J Bruce Ismay (Martin Allanson) - who is never given an easy ride in Titanic stories, and the ships designer Thomas Andrews (Ian McLarnon), who always gets a massive dose of hindsight as the story hits the final stages. In fairness the captain, owner and designer do harmonise well when the are singing.

Musically Yeston is aiming at the popular music of the time, the likes of Vaughan Williams for example. The result is a traditional musical which is closer to an operetta - a style that was still popular at that time. A lot of the exposition is sung through. So lyrics include the direction of the boat and the frequency of its engine rotations. Couple this with a tendency to repeat the final line of a verse results in a musical that will appeal really strongly to some and be utter marmite to others. There is a lot for the band, under musical director Ben Papworth, to deal with - though they are tucked away in the theatre - out of sight.
There are a number of great performances Barnaby Hughes as the Steward Etches, and Valda Aviks & David Delve as the "couple everyone watching remembers" Ida and Isidor Straus.

Perhaps the bizarre part of the show - bordering on comical - is the effort the cast goes to show people being thrown into lifeboats when there is no clear indication - at first - about what is happening.

I am glad I finally got to see this Tony Award winning musical - it has been on my list for some time. A lot in the audience clearly loved it and they were on their feet at the end. Indeed, as I said previously - the performances were very good. That all said, I'll probably give a return visit a miss.

Review: Stephen Oliver
Photos: Pamela Raith Photography


Titanic The Musical plays Monday 27 March – Saturday 1 April 2023. Tickets can be purchased at or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 0191 232 7010.


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