“Poignant, dramatic and heart-wrenching” – Titanic the Musical at The Regent Theatre

The story of Titanic is one we will all be familiar with in some way, be it the three-hour James Cameron film starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo Di Caprio, or a brief history lesson in high school. One of the most tragic disasters of the 20th Century, 1517 men, women and children lost their lives.

Now, audiences are afforded the opportunity to see the story in a new light as Titanic the Musical embarks on it’s 10th anniversary tour since its London premiere, docking at Stoke-on-Trent’s Regent Theatre for six days – the length of time it should have taken for RMS Titanic to reach New York from Southampton.

But as you enter the theatre, there’s an unsettling feeling. As actors board the ship, bid farewell to their loved ones with a ‘see you in two weeks’, there’s a sinking feeling in my chest. We know how this story ends, but each one of them is innocently unaware of the fate awaiting them.

Pamela Raith

The way in which the stage was built and how the actors utilise the whole auditorium allows for an immersive experience – you truly feel as though you are on that ship, engaging viewers in this unconventional history lesson.

In the final hours of April 14, 1912 the RMS Titanic, on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York, collided with an iceberg and ‘the unsinkable ship’ slowly sank. 

Based on real people aboard the most legendary ship in the world, Titanic The Musical is a stunning and stirring production focusing on the hopes, dreams and aspirations of her passengers who each boarded with stories and personal ambitions of their own.

The original Broadway production of Titanic The Musical debuted on stage six months prior to the 1997 film, winning five Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book. 

It’s important to note that Titanic the Musical is not a musical of the film – there’s no Jack and Rose, but you may recognise some of the real life characters introduced from the film, such as J. Bruce Ismay (Martin Allanson)  – managing director of the White Star company that commissioned the ship – designer Thomas Andrews (Ian McLarnon), and of course, Captain Edward Smith Graham Bickley), which gives the musical weight in its authenticity, and serves as a stark reminder of the real people behind the tragedy.

Following a foreboding beginning with In Every Age, Opening and Godspeed Titanic in quick succession, we begin to catch glimpses into the lives of those on board. The musical gives a voice to the Third Class immigrants dreaming of a better life in America (Lady’s Maid), the Second Class imagining they too can join the lifestyles of the rich and famous (I Have Danced), whilst the millionaire Barons of the First Class anticipate legacies lasting forever (What A Remarkable Age This Is.)

Pamela Raith

There’s no single leading lady or frontman in this story, in fact, its strength lies in numbers, proving most impressive when the company sings in unison to portray the urgency, desperation and chaos of this tragic story.

However, a few characters stand out, including Kate McGowan – played by Lucie-Mae Sumner – who is somewhat elusive for her reasons for travel, and leaves us desperate for a prequel of her life, as well as Bree Smith’s Alice Beane, who is effervescent on stage. She’s a true dreamer who radiates positivity, blissfully unaware of her fate.

Older couple and first class passengers, Isidor and Ida Straus – married for 40 years – truly tug at the heartstrings as they slow dance to Autumn, with a tender rendition of Still as they decide they’ll stay on the ship together. David Delve and Valda Aviks portray their love and dedication to one another beautifully and have some of the most memorable moments in the show.

Pamela Raith

But for a Stoke-on-Trent audience, it is the role of Captain Edward Smith who is paramount to the story and its links to the city. Smith was born on Well Street, in Hanley, where his family home bears a blue plaque signifying its importance to the city. The plaque was commissioned by Staffordshire’s Titanic Brewery, who happened to be serving Plum Porter and Steerage at the bars throughout the evening, which was a very nice local touch.

Throughout the production, we see something of a power struggle between Smith, Ismay and Andrews (The Blame), as director Ismay insists on increasing the speed and  had reduced the number of lifeboats significantly – later using one to save himself.

The Captain of the ship is portrayed sympathetically, and comes across as having done his very best to navigate the emergency following the collision. Graham Bickley received the loudest applause during a richly deserved standing ovation at the end of the evening as a result.

Pamela Raith

The pace quickens throughout the second act as the drama and disaster unfolds, with some emotive scenes of the ship’s final hours. The sinking of the Titanic is creative and carefully considered in David Woodhead’s set, leaving much of the conclusion to the imagination, with Thomas Andrews clinging to the rails of the ship as it tilts. 

A tableau is lowered in front of a curtain as survivors of the wreck stand cloaked in Carpathia blankets from the ship that eventually came to the Titanic’s rescue. Bearing each and every name of the 1,500 victims of the disaster was truly one of the most powerful moments I’ve ever witnessed in theatre.

To watch this almost 111 years to the date after the sinking of the ship feels like an honour and a privilege. Titanic the Musical is a poignant, dramatic and heart-wrenching story of resilience and humanity, and while Titanic the film should rightly be praised for its cultural, historical, and political impacts, having raised substantial awareness of the sinking of the Titanic, the musical really is a beautiful and respectful tribute to those who lost their lives on the ill-fated voyage.

Titanic the Musical is at The Regent Theatre until Saturday, April 29. You can pick up your tickets to see the show here.

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Pamela Raith

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