The running time of the Southern Light theatre company’s production of Titanic, at the King’s Theatre until February 25th, is approximately two and a half hours long in order to parallel the time it took for the historical ship to sink into the depths of the North Atlantic Ocean on April 15th, 1912. Unfortunately, whilst this was intended to convey the drama of ‘real time’ theatre and make the audience consider what they would do if they were waiting for the cruelty of fate, I couldn’t help but guiltily hope the boat went down faster.
Providing the audience with necessary, yet also excessive, exposition, the production makes innovative and immersive use of projected graphics on stage. The most poignant use of projection came at the play’s conclusion, presenting a monumental list of the names of the dead, however was also used to alert the audience to the days creeping towards April 14th, the blueprints of the ship itself, and indicate specific settings on the ship to differentiate between class decks. This further established a clash between the level of care and luxury the lower classes and elites experiences, which was also shown through use of set, costume, and the characters within the play frequently reminding the audience through song their experiences with social hierarchy. The class boundaries were one of the major themes in the show, however only really got considered with a degree of levity near the end of the second act when the lower classes were too far away to reach lifeboats in time. By that point, however, they had already been glossed over too much and lacked emotional weight.
The weak emotional levity of the Titanic tragedy was a continuing issue throughout the production, not only failing to generate sympathy, but distinctly lacking in tension. Whilst tension is an undeniably difficult thing to create when the majority of the audience is aware of the story’s ending, the constant foreshadowing and use of dramatic irony eventually removed any sort of impact, and became more of a supposedly charming meta-fiction nod to the audience’s knowledge of the oncoming tragedy that was predictable and repetitive. Additionally, there was very little action within the show, as it was more focused on the individual lives of the characters who were aboard the doomed ship.
However, it felt as though there were too many characters and not enough time dedicated getting to know any of them well enough beyond their generic ‘Cannot wait until I get to America and achieve my dreams’ songs. The over-saturation of these snippets caused characters to be unrecognisable from each other, and therefore difficult to form any empathetic connection to. Further hindering the narrative impact was the poor conveyance of urgency or threat, as the dramatic conclusion of Act 1 was swiftly followed by various songs that reassured there was nothing to worry about, and the very quick acceptance of doom that did not seem realistic, and therefore made snippets of sympathy-generating scenes feel forced and unnatural.
The lack of tension and threat was even confused by the somewhat perpetually optimistic and casual score; the pace and tone of each song was extremely similar, and was most jarring in the show’s finale in which a woman recited how she listened to people drown horrifically while the soundtrack’s flute twitters away like a carefree bird. As an audience member, I was expecting to feel the gravity of morality, the futile nature of circumstance, feel the weight of those lost and the mistakes made on my shoulders, but I was instead subject to a quaint, safe portrayal of the disasters of human error and fate.
The production’s set was wonderfully designed, making excellent use of gauze and painted backdrops which flowed together through excellent transitioning sequences, however the choreography and blocking of actors on the stage was frequently awkward, with dancers distracting the audience from the singers, or blocking action entirely during various musical numbers. The ensemble was large, which made for a good indication of the tragedy’s scale, although in group scenes, I was unsure of who was talking, as characters would be littered around the stage with no lighting cue to point them out, or effective blocking to make them seen. Furthermore, while the acting and singing was enjoyable (the ensemble especially excelled at creating a moving chorus), the sound design also hindered and overwhelmed them; microphones were too quiet, and the volume of the music was too loud and muffled the voices.
In all, there was serious talent on show at the performance, however the weak narrative strained my interest, and by the end of Act 1 I was lost and, worse, uncaring about the characters who I knew were not going to survive the tragedy. I am a firm believer that good acting and set design cannot save bad writing, and so this is not the fault of the company themselves. The script told us that approximately 700 passengers survived the sinking of the Titanic, but I am not even sure if there were that many audience members by the end.
Young Perspective Guest Writer: Zoe Robertson
Image Source: http://www.edtheatres.com/titanic