Titanic

Date 25th April 2015
Society University of Manchester Musical Theatre Society
Venue The Council Chambers (Students Union)
Type of Production Musical
Director Richard Aaron Davies
Musical Director Michael Phillips
Choreographer Sophie Handley

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Author: Kevin Proctor

This 1997 musical set aboard the historic Titanic expedition premiered on Broadway BEFORE James Cameron's movie was released – albeit in the same year – which saved the sinking of the indifferently reviewed stage show, which I found surprisingly buoyant. A common misconception in the theatre world is that this musical came along after the hit movie. Should the musical have struck on Broadway several years before the blockbuster film release I feel it might have had a larger success as a stage show. Until recently, I’d always assumed this musical was conceived off the back of the movie and I’m certain some people would have bought a ticket to the stage show expecting to hear a rendition of Celine Dion’s anthem in the score – an expectation which will no doubt work for and against the musicals favour. Despite winning the Tony Award for Best Musical, the presence of Titanic (the stage show) since then has been relatively understated.

This show is structured as a collection of vignettes as we see snippets into the characters on board the ship of dreams. The individuals we know of who were on board the voyage (Cpt E J Smith, Thomas Andrews and Mr Murdoch) are reflected according to actual accounts but whether complete fiction, documented stories or a mix of the two - we are also introduced to a collection of characters amongst the passengers on board.   

Upon entering the auditorium, the audience were given a boarding pass onto HMS Titanic.
The strength of this production fell onto the very stout ensemble who arguably produced, vocally, the finest sound I’ve heard from this society creating a dominant wall of sound with very clear and well balanced harmonies.

The twenty five strong orchestra aided the entire production with the gorgeous (never stopping for a rest) score.  Technically, the orchestra, as beautiful as they were, did prove a hindrance when actors were speaking, mics weren’t turned up high enough when dialogue was underscored preventing much of the dialogue being heard over the orchestra. Although it’s an intimate performance space, actors still needed to throw their vocal delivery to the back wall, especially when their backs were turned.

Georgia Affonso's notable Alice determined to gate-crash the top table was pointedly distinguished as was the late-flowering romance among James Penniston and Anna Davies as they renew their vows, as it were, in waltz-time as the water rises. Oliver Maynard had some strong moments as Mr Andrews as did Jack McGinn as Captain Smith who adopted a strong status in his presentation. I’m just sorry I could not mention everyone given the size of this cast, all of whom were principals in their own right, though other highlight performances were Jack Hawkins as Frederick Barrett and Emma Doherty as Kate McGowen.

I really did enjoy and got swooped up during ‘Doing The Latest Rag’ which was wonderfully exciting with perfect staging by Sophie Handley.

Direction by Richard Aaron Davies was very inspired, the piece had been adapted to an intimate set up and such groups as these with limited funds are forced to think creatively (and cheaply!) which Richard did. A sterling job. The clever and simple idea of how to recreate the iceberg was portrayed quite excellently. Ingeniously simple effects and staging to convey the ship sinking (sorry to give away the ending!) was so simple I’d have said they wouldn’t have worked when in fact they portrayed exactly what was required. The final moments of the show was, again, very simple and driven on emotion and tribute to the many who lost their lives which was displayed beautifully, having the desired effect on many members of the audience.   

Michael Phillips offered a terrific job as Musical Director to this production who certainly had his work cut out with this show but his biggest triumph, in my opinion, was the ensemble vocals which had been drilled and executed to a pristine degree.

One thing which could not be ignored was the socks donned by certain male members of the company, all of whom needed to wear plain or black. We got an array of bright coloured and odd socks and even a Wallace and Gromit pair, not all that authentic! However, ignoring that, this show makes for a tingling, involving theatrical experience even though some impressive anthems and chorales fail to make up for a distinct lack of a take-home melody.

There's much craft and heart with some beautiful touches of making sense of a journey into the unknown that started out as an experimental adventure for all concerned - that's what this show so metaphorically and brilliantly encapsulates.

On a personal level, I was taken aback when it dawned on me that this will be the last time I will see some of these performers who I’ve seen develop since their UMMTS debuts, given this will be their final venture with the group before they graduate. On the flip, it was also warming to welcome some new, promising individuals too who will undoubtedly shape the future of UMMTS.

The last 12 months has seen UMMTS turn a massive corner in terms of standard and quality. The next committee certainly have some big boots to fill which I anticipate and support the future of this exciting university clique.