"Awe inspiring like the ship"
by Andy Bramfitt on 25/04/12

A performance as powerful and awe inspiring as the great ship herself.

It was quite fitting that on this, the opening night of DarlingtonOS production of Titanic, that the heavens had opened and the audience arrived already soaked through and shivering.

We all know the story of the ill fated maiden voyage and it is well celebrated this year through both factual and dramatised TV productions but I defy any of them to be as moving, as emotional and as immersive as this show.

The opening scenes, with the passengers and crew viewing the mighty ship for the first time is a testament to the direction and choreography of Scott St Martyn - the use of simple projections along with perfect stage management gave everyone no doubt that we were about to set sail on a monumentous journey. The cast, in joining together for a rafter lifting first chorus, set the scene, the pace and the expectation that everything about this show was going to be huge. The opening number is all the more heart-aching because we know the fate that lies in wait for many of the characters; the first class passengers who openly flaunt their wealth & riches, the 2nd class who looking enviously at 1st whilst living beyond their means just to try and fit in and the 3rd class who bring only themselves and their dreams. Death doesn't discriminate.

Back in 1912 the Titanic started her journey at a quite sedate 18 knots but this show went straight to full power and didn't let up once. The pacing of each scene was breathtaking whilst the interaction between characters was a perfect example of how to sell a back story, develop interaction and create personae all within one number. The main characters, acting as the golden thread running through the whole show, were never in danger of bullying their way to 'front & centre' - each was sympathetic to the story's needs yet brilliantly powerful in taking us on this turbo charged ride. Julian Cound, as the ships designer & builder Thomas Andrews, ran the whole gamut of emotion from pride through protective parentship and finally personal grief as his 'baby' flounded and he realised how simple a solution to this could have been. Lee Morris played the first class steward Henry Etches with a perfect blend of humble servitude and knowing discretion - in part he reminds of the character Radar from M*A*S*H - always there, never demanding but the grease that keeps everything running smoothly. I could go on and list each and every cast member - they were all wonderful and can feel rightly proud that they delivered an historic show. Likewise, Michael Trotter as musical director, and his orchestra deserve all their plaudits for providing a sensational aural backdrop.

Darlington Civic doesn't have the largest of stages but with the ingenious sets and masterful stage direction it was all too easy to think we were watching a production at the Palladium or the Royal Albert Hall - at times there were in excess of 30 people moving, dancing, interacting yet not once did it seemed cramped - not, that is, until we reached the climatic end when the feeling of claustrophobia and panic was palpable and not just on the stage.

For anyone wondering how the dreadful story of the Titanic can be portrayed effectively on stage, and as a musical, they need not fret - it is, after all, a story about love, greed, dreams and tragedy. The show has a number of anthemic songs which, in the hands and voices of this fabulous cast rivalled even Les Mis for pulse racing, tear jerking emotion. The song "We'll meet tomorrow", performed as the realisation that those left on board would surely drown, prompted many frantic searchings for tissues and stifled sobs.

In the centenary year of Titanic, and with the huge interest across the world in revisting the events of April 1912, I would urge everyone, young & old, to go and see this show - it will not only educate you as to how things happened, it will transport you on deck and give you the sense and feeling of what it was like. Just be prepared to be moved.

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