Titanic - The Musical

Birmingham Hippodrome


15 April, 1912. The largest, most luxurious ship yet built, a leviathan of the seas, RMS Titanic sailed into legend - the unsinkable had managed the unthinkable – she sank with the loss of 1,517 souls.

The ghost of the White Star liner takes to the seas again in this fabulous production on a tenth anniversary tour, sailing serenely between musical and opera with magnificent, soaring choral work that would not have looked out of place in a WNO production – it is that good.

The operatic influence is also seen in the use of recitative which perhaps mirrors the grandeur of the maiden voyage and heralds the unfolding tragedy.

The three principals of the impending disaster are the liner’s owner, her captain and her designer, all bearing some responsibility of varying degrees.

Martin Allanson plays J Bruce Ismay, chairman and managing director of the White Star Line, he wants his pride and joy, a £150m investment in today’s money, to break records, to be the fastest Atlantic liner of its day. He spends the voyage pressing the captain to go faster and faster.

Captain Edward Smith, played by Graham Bickley, is on his final command, persuaded by Ismay to put off retirement to oversee the maiden voyage. Ismay’s insistence on more and more speed overtakes his years of experience and judgement which should have dictated a prudent steady build up on a new ship.

Then there is Thomas Andrews, the designer, played by Ian McLarnon whose revolutionary design, the ship’s inbuilt unsinkability, had a fatal flaw, cruelly exposed by a glancing collision with an iceberg.


Thomas Andrews, played by Ian McLarnon, left, Capt Edward Smith, played by Graham Bickley and Martin Allanson as J Bruce Ismay argue about blame while the radio operators tap out SOS. Pictures: Pamela Raith

The tension between the three after the collision is exposed in the trio Blame with Ismay, the only one to survive, claiming poor design and reckless captaincy were the case rather than his demand for speed.

Paying out up to £100,000 for the best suites in today’s money, we have the great and the good first class passengers, millionaires – at least - including the Astors and the Guggenheims. Here we get to know Bavarian born Isidor Straus, the co-owner of Macy’s department store, and his wife of 41 years Ida, played by David Delve and Valda Aviks.

The pair give us the sad and moving love song Still as they dance one last time as they await their fate. Ida was asked to get in a lifeboat along with Isador, but he refused to go while there were still women and children on board, so Ida refused to leave him, her words immortalised for evermore. "We have lived together for many years. Where you go, I go."

Then we had second class where we found the eloping Lady Caroline Neville and her husband to be Charles Clarke, played by Emma Harrold and Matthew McDonald, who sports a wonderful tenor voice.

They have their own emotional moment in To The Lifeboats when husbands and lovers say farewell and await their fate, among them the Beanes, Alice played by Bree Smith, last seen at The Hippodrome as Shug Avery in The Color Purple, and Edgar played by James Darch.

Alice is not so much a social climber as a social gatecrasher, sneaking in to first class at every opportunity, bringing well controlled fun to the party and providing a challenge for Edgar who is happy with his hardware store in Indianapolis rather than the empire of stores, and millionaire status, Alice demands. Smith cleverly manages to make us smile without turning Alice into a comic figure of fun – she remains a real character . . . and encyclopaedia of rich and famous.


Who wants to be a millionaire? Well Alice, played by Bree Smith does with husband Edgar played by James Darch trying hard to keep her feet somewhere near the ground

Third class was another story, 76 per cent were to die, many unable to reach the decks with closed doors locking them below, class here was more than mere tickets. Here we meet three Kates, all Irish, who give us Lady’s Maid, a song full of hope.

There is Kate Murphy, played by Emily George, who wants to run a shop, Mullins, played by Niahh Long, who wants to be a lady’s maid and McGowan, played by Lucie-Mae Sumner, who is running away from a mistake in Ireland, a mistake she carries inside her, which means she needs a husband, fast.

Four days later she has got her attractive claws into emigrating Irish fisherman Jim Farrell, played in an impressive professional debut by Chris Nevin, who finds himself engaged for a marriage that will never take place.

More than 800 passengers died along with 693 crew, 78 per cent of the compliment, including Capt Smith going down with his ship.

Second in command was William Murdoch, played by Billy Roberts, wracked by guilt as he was in charge when Titanic hits the iceberg, and the caring, first class steward Henry Etches, played by Barnaby Hughes, who sees looking after the guests as death laps around their feet as merely part of his duties and carries on to the end.

There is Fred Barrett, the stoker, played by Adam Filipe, who sends an expensive cable to his girlfriend proposing marriage on his return, courtesy of a freebie from radio operator-come-Marconi fanatic Harold Bride, played by Alastair Hill. The pair have a duet full of hope with The Proposal/The Night was Alive.

Saddest is perhaps Sam Brown’s Frederick Fleet, the lookout who on a still, dark, moonless night spotted the iceberg too late to avoid a collision with the doom-laden song No Moon.


Adam Filipe as Fred Barrett dictates his love letter to radio operator Harold Bride, played by Alastair Hill

Maury Yeston’s lyrics and music have impressive shades of light and dark, with the excitement of boarding on the ship of the age, the happy moments full of hope in third class, the satisfaction in first and a general air of achievement and a new age of travel – then the emotion and sense of doom and loss, and the acceptance of a fate to come.

The musical may not have produced any standards but the songs are well written and advance the narrative side by side with Peter Stone’s telling book. David Woodhead’s set is a stark affair, a back wall of rivetted plates with an upper deck to serve as bridge, with a hidden entrance below where desks, tables and radio equipment glide in and out. Woodhead is also responsible for the authentic looking costumes.

The whole thing is brought to life by Howard Hudson’s sympathetic lighting which gives us sunlight on deck, a fiery glow by the engine room boilers, a dark night of disaster and unobtrusive highlights within scenes.

A six piece band under musical director Ben Papworth did a sterling job, although words did get lost from time to time in songs and dialogue, which is not unknown on opening nights in a new theatre in touring productions.

All the characters in the musical, some 25 of them, are either actual passengers or crew or are based on them, giving an element of authenticity, far more than the Hollywood we can do better than the facts version of the 1997 film.

The result is a musical that respects the event, honouring the victims with no trivialising. We all know the story, we know it doesn’t end well, and this sets out to give some explanation of what happened and what went wrong in an emotive, powerful and dramatic musical which is marked by impressive singing with a simply glorious and soaring chorus.

The sheer enormity of Titanic comes at the end when a list of the dead appears, a huge wall of names, a litany of lives, hopes and dreams all lost on what was a night to remember. Directed by Thom Southerland, Titanic will be docked at the Hippodrome to 22-04-23.

Roger Clarke


The disaster changed the rules on lifeboats which had to be sufficient for the maximum number of passengers – the Titanic had 16 and four collapsible ones, more than were legally required at the time, which could carry less than a third of the liner at full capacity. It also brought in rules about 24 hour radio monitoring and that any rocket fired by a ship was to be interpreted as a distress signal not company signals or fireworks.

The British freighter Californian was nearby but the radio operator was off duty and no one saw the rockets from Titanic as being signs of distress.

A 7ft 8in bronze statue of Capt Smith, incidentally, sculpted by Lady Kathleen Scott, widow of Robert Falcon Scott, stands in Beacon Park, Lichfield, Lichfield being the cathedral city of the diocese of Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent where Smith was born. 

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