The 1997 Broadway musical of “Titanic” may have shared an inaugural year with the showy and special effect laden film by James Cameron but thankfully there’s not so much as a hint of Celine Dion. Saying that it does seem to go on and on in places, much like her poor heart. ★★★
The new creative team at The Charing Cross Theatre (which incidentally, was hotter than the Titanic’s boiler room) have revived their 2013 Southwark Playhouse hit and it certainly fits the venue. The balconies even curve round the edges of the theatre in an ocean liner style and the David Woodhead’s minimalist set works well in the space. There’s definitely atmosphere if not always much oomph.
The overlong first half feels torturously slow in parts and the various characters are introduced, starting with a lacklustre opening number then progressing through lots of individual songs and duets. The tone is hauntingly choral at times but there’s an odd mishmash of styles. It feels like the introductions have to be got out of the way and the scene has to be set but the technical details of the boat are laboriously gone over and the first act feels oddly cold and bloodless. There’s a focus on social class that feels almost as tired as the sinking of the Titanic and there’s nothing very illuminating here.
Just before the interval and the arrival of the iceberg things heat up (ironically) and the momentum carries through in Act Two with a much brisker pace and songs with more panache and impact. When it’s good it’s very good but there are moments that are more car crash than shipwreck especially the weak attempts at humour and some of the accents. There’s acting and singing from the aisles in spades which depending on your seating position in the theatre makes for an irritating distraction and is an unusual directorial decision from Thom Southerland.
On the plus side: there are some great numbers in act two and some belting performances, especially from Judith Street and Dudley Rogers as Mr and Mrs Straus. The dreary first act is more than compensated for by the impactful second. It’s well worth a look if you’re a musical theatre fan. Otherwise stay at home and watch “A Night to Remember” for a glimpse of true understated drama 1958 style.
Buy tickets here at Charing Cross Theatre. Runs until Sat, 6th August 2016.