Factoids about the dimensions and provisions are sung. The aisles of the stalls are used to give a feeling of length to David Woodhead’s largely flat set which consists of a two level gantry with metal steps on wheels that become quite a distraction with their constant movement after the interval.
The ensemble cast of 25 belt out the four, five and perhaps even six part harmonies that Maury Yeston has penned. In places, it’s nearly more operatic than musical theatre. The Morse Code riff was a noble way of explaining the Marconi operators. The best tune in the score – Godspeed Titanic – is cleverly reprieved at the end, lifting the emotion out of tragedy and back towards hope. The score’s success is not in crafting hummable tunes but in the way it sets of the mood for each scene. Elaborate violin bowing and frantic harpsichord playing on top of the deep cello tones are all very effective. Post collision, the cacophonous score ratcheted up the sense of panic.
“God himself couldn’t sink this ship”
Subwoofers powerfully transmitted the collision of steel and ice throughout the stalls, though the sinking was very quiet and listless other than one final moment when the set sprung to life. Playing Kate McGowan (one of the three Kates), Victoria Serra’s voice soared high above the rest of the cast in the ensemble numbers. The sweet Straus family (Dudley Rogers and Judith Street) provided the most moving moment of the performance.
Having never quite fully jumped aboard the Titanic centenary bandwagon, I needed to be won round to why the world needed another nautical stage show. The quality of the storytelling shone through. Peter Stone’s book jams in a lot of moving parts with an analysis of class, the upstairs downstairs nature of the ship’s crew (though the tale of those below decks is the least well told aspect of the story), as well as the onboard tensions around the owner’s ambition for a speedy crossing.
“It could’ve been crass but it wasn’t” was how I phrased it to the Belfast Telegraph’s David Young during the interval. It’s much better than I expected: riveting in places and never dull.
Titanic the Musical is at the Grand Opera House until Saturday 28 April.