Triumphantly Buoyant

Titanic - The Musical
Queen Elizabeth Theatre Academy, Crediton
Saturday 3rd February 2018

Queen Elizabeth’s Schools Theatre Academy’s production of Titanic The Musical was a resounding success. The sell out shows directed and produced by the very talented Vicky Evans, Head of Drama at QE, was emotion provoking and once again performed to an exceedingly professional standard. The feedback received has been overwhelming and Simon Lewis from the Gloucestershire Echo has written the below review of the performance.

"She remains the most famous ship in history, despite making only one voyage which ended prematurely in the icy waters of the North Atlantic Ocean. On a freezing night in April 1912 the supposedly unsinkable RMS Titanic struck an iceberg and sank with the loss of 1,523 lives. Her story has inspired hundreds of books, several notable films and, in possibly the boldest move of them all, a stage musical, which premièred on Broadway in 1997 amid myriad misgivings and accusations of insensitivity.

Yet anyone still harbouring doubts about Maury Yeston’s multi-award winning creation should have checked out this splendid production by the Queen Elizabeth School Theatre Academy, Crediton. Here was entertainment on a grand scale, a disciplined and sprawling cast shoe-horned onto a postage-stamp of a stage, draped in exquisite period costumes from first-class finery to steerage scruffs, and making excellent use of the strikingly adaptable split-level set, none more so than the cleverly improvised crow’s nest from which lookout Frederick Fleet hollered the ship’s death sentence.

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Vicky Evans’ stirring and highly atmospheric presentation captured all the thrill, jollity and tragedy of this most famous of ocean-going odysseys, right down to the delightfully choreographed spade dance in the ship’s boiler room. Most importantly, however, she fashioned a fitting tribute to those 1,500 lost souls whose names took centre stage at the end, a harrowing roll of honour and a chilling monument to Edwardian over-confidence.

The first act may have been little more than scene-setting, introducing the chief players and throwing British society and its cast-iron class system into sharp relief, but it still brimmed with all the excitement of a maiden voyage blessed with ordinary folk dreaming of a new life in America, and no more keenly expressed than by highly-strung second-class socialite Alice Beane in an infectious performance by the dazzling Zoe Burrow. Back projections kept us up to speed with events prior to 11.40pm on Sunday 14th April, before the horrifying realities of the far darker second act moved in.

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Defying the usual conventions, the ship itself is meant to be the star of the show, with everyone else, including the officers, the rich and the famous reduced to the status of supporting role. Even so, several individuals deserve awards for their skilled characterisations and affording the performance its backbone. The supremely assured Harry Borthen proved a tower of strength as Chief Steward Etches, and George Stone was a picture of dignity as Captain Smith, commendably portrayed as the ship’s conscience and regularly clashing with the irascible White Star Line chairman Bruce Ismay. Dominic Cann exuded an almost Bondian villainy in the role, displaying an arrogance as massive as the iceberg with which his prize liner eventually collided. As the tension mounted, amid rising panic, recriminations and the frantic scramble for the lifeboats, Joel Yates turned in a peach of performance as the ship’s tragic designer Thomas Andrews, earnestly considering improvements until the ship’s final moments, while behind him, doomed passengers tried desperately to save themselves in a surreal, blue-suffused danse macabre straight out of Danté’s Inferno, distressingly imbued with the certainty that none would survive. Oh, the humanity!

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At the eye of all the storms stood two of the Titanic’s real heroes: Isidor and Ida Strauss, calm and unflinching in the face of death and wonderfully played by Luca Vaccari and Hepzibah Duckham. Resigned to their fate, their moving duet Still all but moved me to tears. At the other extreme, all rise for local thespian Pat Laver’s hilarious cameo as the grizzled old Major, ceaselessly reeling off any number of amusing reminiscences and inducing terminal boredom in the state smoke room.

The resonant chorus was in fine voice throughout, capably negotiating their way through Yeston’s demanding score; several of the songs are far trickier to sing than they sound, especially the high-altitude chorus lines, yet the sopranos soared frequently and effortlessly to top C. Behind the gauze, the ship’s band provided solid support, while the real thing, which famously played to the very end on that fateful night, was conspicuous by its absence. In its place the animated Wallace Hartley Vocal Trio, resplendent in white tuxedos, invited everyone to dance the latest rag. Ah, well, you can’t have everything. No matter, there was plenty more to savour: passion, pathos, top-drawer performances, intelligent lighting and even, at one point, two captains on the bridge! Indeed, what a remarkable show this was."

Simon Lewis, Gloucestershire Echo

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