“Sail on, sail on, good ship Titanic!”, goes a thrilling choral refrain in this Broadway-originated musical, and so does Thom Southerland’s boldly stripped-back production that was first seen at Southwark Playhouse in 2013 and then revived at Charing Cross Theatre in 2016.
Now it sails on to a new national tour of much larger venues, appropriately launching in Southampton – the port city from which Titanic began her maiden (and what turned out to be her final) transatlantic journey in 1912.
The production magnificently retains the forensic chamber intensity it had before, though its scale has been necessarily expanded to fill a much larger stage. Designer David Woodhead elegantly frames his simple two-tier set in a metallic proscenium arch that instantly evokes the ship’s building materials, with only moving staircases deployed to re-set locations around the ship.
Southerland also has his cast occasionally spill into the stalls aisles and make exits and entrances through the auditorium, to establish even closer connections with the audience.
Evocative sculptural lighting by Howard Hudson delivers mood but also spectacle as needed. And Mark Aspinsall’s seven-piece strings and percussion band, sounding much fuller than it is, swells and subsides on demand to precisely re-set the musical atmosphere from swooning romanticism to icy, dread anticipation.
But mostly it is composer Maury Yeston’s surging, melodic score, powerfully rendered by a stunning ensemble cast of actor-singers, that had me sobbing openly during the awful inevitably of the second act.
The company includes veterans of the show’s previous outings including the invaluable Greg Castiglioni, Phil Rham and Simon Green as the ship’s architect, captain and owner respectively, Niall Sheehy as the stoker Barrett, and Victoria Serra, Claire Machin and Claire Marlowe as passengers, bringing full voice and powerful characterisations. But there are also some terrific newcomers to the cast such as Kieran Brown as second-in-command Murdoch and Lewis Cornay as a band singer and bellboy.