Show: TITANIC the Musical
Society: Epsom Light Opera Company
Venue: Epsom Playhouse, Epsom, Surrey
Credits: Story and Book by Peter Stone, Music and Lyrics by Maury Yetson. Produced on Broadway by Dodger Theatricals, Richard S. Pechter and the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts. An amateur product
Performance Date: 21/04/2012
Titanic the Musical
Paul Johnson | 25 Apr 2012 14:35pm
Media coverage marking the centenary of Titanic’s tragic maiden voyage has, rightly, been extensive right across the board. The almost legendary chain of events leading up to how the greatest liner of its time sank during the early hours of 15th April 1912 with 1,514 passengers and crew still onboard have been replayed countless times over recent weeks.
Not to be outdone, UK amateur operatic and musical societies have also been paying respect to the infamous anniversary by staging their own productions of Yeston and Stone’s Titanic the Musical. Sardines had the good fortune to attend two such timely performances: Firstly, West Wickham Operatic Society at Bromley’s Churchill Theatre (100 years to the evening Titanic struck the iceberg) !followed a week later by Epsom Light Opera Company’s offering at the Epsom Playhouse.
Not wanting to compare performances or repeat myself in each write-up, and with just seven days separating both productions (as well as hiring the exact same set!), I’ve decided to include both shows in a single review – to be posted on both society’s respective listings. I really don’t think either society would want the focus to be shifted away from the significance of the occasion, which was represented so well and at an equally high level by both companies. WWOS has successfully produced Titanic twice now after first staging its London premiere back in 2006. With regular director Kevin Gauntlett ‘at the helm’ this was a beautifully slick show on the Churchill’s vast stage. I really don’t know where WWOS would be without the Gauntlett family – I counted no less than eight members, over three generations, taking part in this production! From the aforementioned Kevin G., directing, as well as playing J. Bruce Ismay, Chairman of The White Star Line ! to WWOS Chairman, Terry G., playing Jewish owner of Macy’s dept. store, Isador Straus ! to Ellen G., playing third-class passenger Kate McGowan ! right up into the ‘Gods’ where Max G. was operating one of two follow-spots. However, before you start thinking of this as the Titanic-Gauntlett show, rest assured there were at least sixty-five non-Gauntletts onstage throughout the Bromley production. And what a show they gave. One of WWOS’s great strengths, apart from great management, lies in the depth of its singing talent so when an audience is faced with an emotionally charged seventy-three-strong chorus doing justice to Maury Yeston’s bigger numbers – such as In Every Age, No Moon and Godspeed Titanic – it can take your breath away. As a musical Titanic comes across exactly as it should; respectful and true to its era, so it was interesting to see how each director’s interpretations and visions were played out – especially when, as already mentioned, they both use the same set! Interestingly, while both societies in this little case-study did indeed take a slightly different approach to each other, both productions worked extremely well. The overall feel I got from WWOS was a stylish and respectful tableau-like approach, which achieved a very considered and reverential atmosphere highly charged with emotion. This let the company focus on delivering a near-perfect vocal with far too many stand-out performances to actually stand out – if you see what I mean. Across town the Epsom Playhouse isn’t a small theatre by any stretch of the imagination but nevertheless still offered Epsom Light Opera Company a more intimate space for their production. So while the oratory that comes with Bromley’s Churchill Theatre enabled WWOS to reproduce the sheer physical scale of Titanic and her watery tomb, ELOC director, James Fortune, could concentrate heavily on achieving a chilling up-close and eerily real experience for his Surrey audience. Fortune says in his programme notes: “I wanted a fully immersive experience for the audience”, which he achieved on many levels. Utilising the side aisles of the auditorium, excited passengers appeared from all manner of places before mounting the ramp to board the “largest moving object in the world”. Fortune’s creativity brought out a great dramatic quality to ELOC’s production which brought the audience onboard the liner too. As this is essentially a review and we don’t usually sit on the fence at Sardines, I should say that although as a company WWOS generally possessed a stronger vocal quality (although the principal roles were more evenly matched), it was ELOC that really brought the characters to life and put its audience through the whole horror of the sinking. With perfect and horrific sound effects – that could so easily have been naff – and panic-stricken crowd scenes, Epsom’s audience was on the edge of its seats. I particularly liked how the cast (passengers) filed into the auditorium and stood stock-still flanking the audience in haunting intimidation just before the iceberg hit. Both sets of costumes couldn’t be faulted in any area, nor could the two respective lighting designs, with each production using translucent gauzes to maximum effect. The haunting final scene where the victims were slowly lit up behind the back-drop for the finale was excellently done at both shows. I would have to say that ELOC’s heavy use of onstage haze definitely gave them an edge when it came to scenes such as the ‘Boiler Room’. Speaking of which! the portrayal of both society’s ‘Stokers, one Frederick Barrett’ typified the marked difference between these two productions: Both excellent in their roles, WWOS’s Robert James gave a strong and assured vocal performance while keeping himself very clean and tidy in a White Star Line pullover !whereas ELOC’s James Turnbull was covered in sweat, oil and coal-dust and dressed in the dirtiest vest imaginable. I could pick out further differences or pick out which group gave better performances here and there, but it doesn’t really matter if one production offered a little more in one area while the other made up for it in another. The important point to remember is that on such a special occasion, both societies did themselves proud while paying great respect to the hundreds of men, women and children who died that night. The atmosphere was electric inside each venue with both audiences on their feet for the curtain call – during which time neither company took the opportunity to indulge in self-congratulation, but instead used the moment to respectfully acknowledge the sombre mood.
It was a shame that several members of the Bromley audience failed to notice their cast’s respectful tribute during the bows, preferring to whoop and whistle, which came over as a little inappropriate – especially as WWOS had also invited twenty living relatives of Titanic’s victims to their final performance – but I guess we’ll just put that down to a few over-eager friends and family members! mind you, it couldn’t have been any of the Gauntletts !they were all onstage!
- : admin
- : 21/04/2012