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Titanic the Musical: Liveline listeners say it’s in bad taste. So we’ve been to see it

Maury Yeston’s accomplished musical adds layers of understanding to injustices that sealed fate of passengers

Titanic the Musical: the storytelling comes alive when we meet the characters as they board

Titanic the Musical

Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin
★★★★☆

In the opening song of Maury Yeston’s Titanic the Musical, the composer and lyricist compares the “ship of dreams” to one of the Seven Wonders of the world. Led by Capt Ismay (Martin Allanson), a chorus of crew and passengers declare it “a poem/ And the perfection/ Of physical engineering.” By now, 121 years after its departure from Cobh, its last stop before the United States, we all know the fate of the doomed passenger ship. If Yeston’s accomplished musical – which won four Tony Awards, including best musical, when it premiered on Broadway, in 1997 – tells us nothing new about the sinking, it adds layers of understanding to the injustices in the underlying social strata that sealed the fate of its passengers.

In Every Age is actually the weakest of the musical’s songs: it sets out the romantic score’s recurring musical motifs, but the dense lyrics and the competing voices of the powerful chorus complicate rather than elucidate the tragedy to come. The storytelling comes alive when we meet the individual characters as they board, however: the diligent stoker Barrett (Adam Filipe), desperate to make money so he can marry; the upwardly mobile Alice Bean (Bree Smith), determined to charm her way out of second class to the upper deck; the aspirant third-class immigrants, among them Kate Murphy (Emily George), pregnant outside of marriage. The individual stories illuminate the way in which Titanic was a floating microcosm. Its sinking would shock the world into social change. Was a first-class passenger really more entitled to life than a poor stowaway locked in the hold?

The director of this touring production, Thom Southerland, makes good use of the auditorium’s aisles to make the action more immediate, while David Woodhead’s set – a proscenium of studded steel panels that evoke the hull – is dramatically lit by Howard Hudson to evoke the changing environments below the deck. The sinking itself is staged with restrained simplicity, and the immediate aftermath, enacted without music in front of a list of all the passengers who perished, manages to be shocking despite our foreknowledge of the passengers’ fate. Whatever some Liveline listeners might think, Titanic the Musical is not a prurient performance of other people’s tragedy but a sobering opportunity to reflect on the past.

Continues at Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin 2, until Saturday, August 5th

Sara Keating

Sara Keating

Sara Keating, a contributor to The Irish Times, is an arts and features writer