Telling the infamous story of the “unsinkable” Titanic and its tragic end through script and song, this show shares glimpses into the experiences of a wide host of characters aboard the ill-fated ship during its voyage and eventual sinking.
So rarely seen in amateur productions, every member of this company is a skilled vocalist, with some performances that would not be out of place on a professional West End stage (and no, I do not say that lightly). What is most impressive is the rousing ensemble numbers – never missing a harmony, Ryan Macaulay’s musical direction brings out the very best in this talented troupe, actors and band alike.
In particular, Richard Upton excels as the selfish and single-minded J. Bruce Ismay, and Toby Chapman brings beautiful nuance (not to mention a gorgeous singing voice) to his Frederick Barrett. While every comedic beat of this script is directed brilliantly by Louise Roberts and Rob Archibald, it is James Daly, Tess Robinson, and Sam Kennard who steal the hearts and laughs of the audience with their fantastically funny performances.
The primary disappointment here is largely due to the material: we don’t get to dwell enough on any one character. Though an array of vignettes that provide a glimpse into the scope of different experiences of passengers does make for interesting story-telling, it is difficult to invest in the characters themselves as we spend so little time with each of them, and key moments of their experiences seem glossed over by the pace of the over-arching story.
Further, the moments of true tragedy and terror don’t seem to be given the directorial weight they deserve, and therefore don’t feel as impactful as they could be. Perhaps a greater focus on generating chemistry between the various couples might help to invest us more in their stories; then again Nicole Murray and Joe Dickens share a beautiful spark as young lovers Jim and Kate, yet their narrative is not compelling enough to connect us with them.
The choreography is confused and mostly unnecessary, often serving to remove us from the action rather than enhance it. There is jarring use of the frame of the ship which breaks apart at the beginning and is later seen being waved around by ensemble members which feels like an artistic vision either not executed well or that is simply ineffectual. Generally, this production does a remarkably good job of bringing such a large ensemble together in a tiny performance space, but occasionally it is too busy and we struggle to find the focal point of the moment.
Callum Anderson’s costumes are excellent, and Pippa Kyle’s props are innovative and perfectly used throughout. The highlight of the technical side of this show is Andrew Laidlaw’s set. Merely a balcony and two sets of stairs, the visual impact and the way it vividly evokes the feel of the ship is truly exquisite. With subtle hidden details on the stairs such as strip lights that glow red when we are in the furnaces of the boiler room, and excellent (albeit sometimes precarious!) use of the moving stairs to create unique spaces and environments, this simple set is a technical-theatre triumph.
Considering this is an amateur production, it really is exceedingly good, and will be playing at The Bridewell Theatre until 2nd December.
Review: Penny Lane Photo: Elizabeth Grace