Jemma Beggs finds little buoyancy in the musical version of Titanic at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff.
Known as ‘The Ship of Dreams’, writer Peter Stone and composer Maury Yeston, have positioned the essence of this nickname as the overarching theme in Titanic the Musical. The dreams of the three different classes and the crew are at the forefront of each character’s story and form the basis of the majority of the songs. With its magnificent, era-defining costumes and muted lighting, in stasis the production would emit a dreamlike quality as a series of snapshots, however upon the stage, there is neither a remarkable vibrancy nor an ethereal delicacy. This is predominantly due to a monotonal score; the songs are all well-written and well-executed by a cast of excellent singers, but the issue lies in their unvarying slow tempo, making some of them interchangeable upon the first listening. Only a handful of songs from the considerable score exude that magical quality which instantly provides the hook to leave its imprint in the brain.
The logistics of staging a play upon a ship which will ultimately sink are complex; the initial creation of the illusion of being aboard Titanic is deftly accomplished, with slow motion set movements to fabricate the appearance of the ship setting sail and the gangways on the sides of the stage cleverly used as gangplanks. However, once established, bar some minor adjustments, the monochromatic set does not alter for the entirety of the show. Comprised mainly of bronzed metal, white railings, decking and little else, the sparse set swiftly becomes one-dimensional and dull, providing a disappointing backdrop to such a dramatic tale.
With every name in the play based on a real person who travelled aboard the ship, and the sheer quantity of historical facts woven through the script, it is evident that Titanic the Musical is above all, a means of paying homage to those who lost their lives in the disaster. Great emphasis is placed on the apportioning of blame and responsibility, most notably displayed in the heated row between Captain Smith, architect Mr Andrews and owner Mr Ismay, all of whom give brilliant performances.
However, this is not merely a cold recreation of history; love and romance are leading themes throughout, showcasing the hopes, dreams and relationships of both the passengers and crew. Whilst almost all characters are given the opportunity to reveal their stories, they are all backstories and largely performed outwards to the audience, with little current storyline driving the play aside from the structure set out by the sinking of the ship. There are too many characters and not enough emotive interaction between them for the audience to form truly emotional connections to them, beyond the devastating fact they represent real people who lost their lives.
Titanic the Musical is a good price of theatre, performed by an extremely talented cast and under strong direction from Thom Southerland however, it relies too heavily on the tragic inevitability given to it by the audience knowing from the beginning how it will end, therefore failing to achieve a poignancy in its own right as a piece of art, failing to reach beyond that of the emotion evoked by all those who lost their lives on what should have been ‘The Ship of Dreams’.
Jemma Beggs has written many theatre reviews for Wales Arts Review.