14 April 2008

Titanic! - Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts @ the Shaw Theatre, Friday 11th April 2008


TITANIC! begins as Thomas Andrews, the architect of the great ship, pores over the blueprints of his design. The curtain then rises to reveal the Ocean Dock in Southampton, where people are gathering to wonder at and to board the ship on sailing day: first a stoker, then additional crewmen, officers and stevedores, the owner, the architect and the captain, the Third and Second Class passengers, and finally the First Class Passengers. Now, fully boarded, the ship pulls out as the company sings a prayerful farewell.

One by one, the dreams and aspiration of key characters are presented: Barrett, the stoker who wanted to get away from the coal mines; Murdoch, the ship's officer contemplating the responsibility of command; Kate McGowan and the Third Class passengers who yearn for a better life in America; Chief Steward Etches and the millionaires he serves who exult in the wonders of their world.

Barrett finds his way to the Telegraph Room where he dictates a proposal of marriage to his sweetheart back home in a telegram transmitted by Harold Bride, a young telegraph operator smitten with the possibilities of the new radio technology.

The next day, 14th 14, after Sunday morning church service, the First Class attends the shipboard band's spirited out-of-doors concert - an exclusive event crashed by Second Class passenger Alice Beane, a hardware store owner's wife who wants more out of life. That evening, as Fleet the lookout scans the horizon and bandsman Hartley regales the First Class Smoking Room with a new song, the ship sails inexorably towards her collision, which ends Act One.

Act Two opens as the suddenly awakened First and Second Class passengers are assembled in the Grand Salon for life-belt instruction by Chief Steward Etches, before being sent up to the Boat Deck to board the lifeboats. In the Telegraph Room, Captain Smith, Mr. Andrews and Mr. Ismay, the owner, argue over who is responsible for the disaster while Mr. Bride tirelessly sends out the S.O.S. Up on the Boat Deck, the male passengers are separated from their families, and all express hopes of being reunited as the final boat is lowered. Isidor Strauss (the owner of Macy's) and his wife Ida remain behind together, as she refuses to leave his side after 40 years of marriage and Mr. Etches utters a prayer. In the abandoned Smoking Room, Thomas Andrews desperately redesigns his ship to correct its fatal flaws, until the futility of his actions leads him to predict, in horrifying detail, the end of Titanic as she begins her now-inevitable descent.

In an Epilogue, the survivors picked up by the Carpathia numbly retell what had once been Mr. Andrews' dream. The living are joined by their lost loved-ones in a tableau recapturing the optimistic spirit of the Ocean Dock on sailing day.

Readers are directed back to my review of WWOS's production of this here: http://russells-theatre-reviews.blogspot.com/2006/11/titanic-west-wickham-operatic-society.html as I will be drawing several comparisons.

This show illustrates my point made about Gone with the Wind - that for an epic story you need an epic score. Four days later and I'm still humming many of the tunes that I heard on Friday evening, whereas not a note from GWTW stays with me.

This was a smaller production than that I saw back in 2006, on a smaller stage and with a smaller company. This inevitably draws comparisons - although the story is unaffected, the smaller cast required some "doubling up" of roles, which led to some confusion. For instance, the First Class Steward was doubled by the chap playing the Third Class Steward,Mr. Guggenheim also appeared as Harold Bride the radio operator, and the Bandmaster also appeared as an engineer. In such a tightly constructed piece, you really had to keep a firm grasp on the plot because of this.

Musical quality was excellent, singing was of very high standard and diction good throughout. Cue pick-up was excellent, making this a much tighter production than the WWOS version (although WWOS Titanic had about four times as many passengers as Mountview's, which made all the "getting on and off again" much lengthier). Also, there was only one, fixed set this time round, saving time on scene changes (although this didn't tilt at all for act 2, making it somewhat less effective). However, I did find the lighting singularly lacking on occasion - in particular right at the end of Act 1. In the WWOS version, the final chord of the collision was accompanied by a complete blackout on stage, with "headlights" coming up in the auditorium to suggest beams of light coming through portholes and the tracking lights on the lifeboats. In the Mountview version, the curtain just closed on a fully lit stage. Also, in the WWOS version, the "ticker tape" lighting effect giving the date, time, longitude and latitude of the ship, as well as the location of the scene about to be played, were projected in large letters on the back screen, whereas in the Mountview production, the words appeared in quite small type in the top left hand corner of the backdrop - if you weren't looking for them, they really escaped your notice. What I did like about this version was that the final scenes were played out in murky blue and green light, making it appear as if the ship was floating down through the ocean, and that the iceberg actually made an appearance in the form of a white gauze curtain being slowly pulled across the stage. Simple, but effective.

I also pick up my prior criticism about costumes; day wear was more or less correct, although the male passengers were wearing suits of modern, rather than Edwardian cut. There were at least two evening dresses of calf-length; all ladies' wear at the time fell to the shoes if not the floor. The sight of bare calves and ankles would have been considered scandalous. Very few of the men had bothered to research period hairstyles, and the First Class Steward would certainly not have had his hair falling over his collar. In act 2, once again, nightwear was almost completely incorrect - no lady worth the name would be wearing pyjamas in 1912. In fact, I think the chorus number "Wearing your pajamas in the Grand Salon" is incorrect - etiquette at the time prevailed that, even during an emergency (and remember, the passengers at this point didn't know it was an emergency) only one's most intimate acquaintances would have seen you in your nightwear. Some effort would have been made to dress. Most of the female passengers who drowned did so because their corsets prevented them from breathing properly in the icy water - and they wouldn't have been wearing corsets under their nightgowns! And, once again, there was a prevalence of 1950s and 60s suitcases going aboard.

The young age of the performers did cause some problems - Alan Pearson as Captain Smith looked more like Captain Birdseye and his make-up "wrinkles" were somewhat less than subtle. His posture was bad throughout (shoulders back, that man!) and he lacked the authority that the role needs. Danny Flitney as Murdoch seemed to have flown in from the naff TV series "The High Life", so twee and forced was his scottish accent. Hartley Wallace was excellent as the Bandmaster, singing very well, dancing even better and even playing his own violin, damn his talent! (Note for the choreographer - the Charleston was yet to be invented in 1912 - the steps should have been Ragtime Jazz). Scott Armstrong, though well voiced for the part of the Stoker, was physically too small to be convincing. Adam Welsh as Bruce Ismay was so small that his role could have been doubled by Jeanette Krankie and looked like a petulant schoolboy dressed in his father's suit. Scott Armstrong and Victoria Basten as the Strausses seemed to have retained their Cherman Eccents even after living in America for over 40 years, and I think that some of their lines had been cut, as had some other small sections - for instance, nobody missed the boat in this production. Natalie Tulloch seemed to be playing Charlotte Cardoza as some kind of cross between Gypsy Rose Lee and Rose de Witt Burkator (as played by Kate Winslet), as evidenced by the untidy titian curls and the 3/4 length burgundy dress trimmed with black bugle beads. Whether this was a deliberate "nod" to the film I couldn't work out.

Down in Second Class, Jenny Perry was First Class as Alice Beane - diction and characterisation were perfect throughout and in her incredibly difficult "Embarkation" number, her dress, shoes, hair, hat and makeup were all spot on. She's obviously been doing her research. Tom Idelson was nicely diffident and embarrassed by turns as her long-suffering husband. In Steerage, the name to watch out for in future is Lucy-Jane Quinlan, who played Kate McGowan with an incredible range of utterly believable emotion from optimism to lonely despair. The scene in which she confesses to Jim Farrell that she is pregnant was heartrendingly underplayed - I certainly don't remember this scene from the WWOS version. Katie Vincent should have been forcibly restrained from going on as Kate Murphy wearing a tartan tam'o'shanter and short yellow pigtails, which made her look like Pippi Longstocking.

Spooky footnote: Mountview did 13 performances of this show, the last of which took place 96 years to the day that RMS Titanic set sail from Southampton. The tighter running time of 2 hours, 5 minutes, echoes exactly the time between the collision with the iceberg and the final disappearance of the great ship beneath the waves. I'm writing this review 96 years to the day that the collision occurred, at 2340hrs, the time that Him Indoors and I reached home after seeing the show....... I hope, and indeed expect, to be reviewing another production of this show in four years time, when the 100th Anniversary of the sinking is marked. Until then, in the words of the finale: "Sail on, saaaail on, great shiiiiiip, Titan...iiiic...."


Anonymous said...

Interesting... Surely someone buying tickets for a STUDENT production could have predicted any of your thin observations. The point is that YOU have to suspend your disbelief because they are students; thats what you are buying into. Strangely, when you look beyond the fact that these are just students on a shoe string budget, something remarkable is happening. Yes, the direction was pedestrian and the and the book itself flawed... but these kids know how to tell a story. Take away the costumes, tear down the set, flood the stage with constant light, and you can still tell a story and move an audience. Perhaps one should be excited that these talented young performers are about to bump up the integrity of the business with some quality acting. Lets hope that their future critics will see beyond the trivia of technical and minutiae and costume, and support these fine young actors.

maybe it's a sign of the times....

rtb said...

Now now! I actually thoroughly enjoyed the show, despite my criticisms. I would point out that these are performing arts students and therefore should expect to be reviewed as if they were professionals. Its good training for the real world for them.

If they were let down by their backstage team or their wardrobe, then that is a sign of either bad advice or sloppy research, neither of which should be expected from those supporting soon-to-be-professionals.

If you re-read my review, you will see that I pay the company some considerable compliments on their singing and acting abilities, which you seem to have overlooked. Somehow, your phrasing leads me to suspect you were somehow involved in the production or related to one of the performers, and cannot bear the idea of someone actually being critical.

Anonymous said...

All I can say to these comments it that if you play in the dramtic world, then be prepared for the reviews - whether favourable or not. It's all a bit tedious reading about how someone is upset that their review hasn't been glowing and that their pride (or ego) is hurt. As our reviewer quite rightly points out - it's good training for the real world!After all, if I get a bad review at work I work out ways to improve my performance so it doesn't happen again!

Adam said...

'I would point out that these are performing arts students and therefore should expect to be reviewed as if they were professionals. Its good training for the real world for them.'

Ok, so therefore, to debunk your critique, what you are actually suggesting is that future drama students school productions should employ older actors to play the older roles. Perhaps they should also just get the NT costume department involved. Your argument is vacuous!

And as for the other anon comment 'if I get a bad review at work I work out ways to improve my performance so it doesn't happen again!'... I must appologise for your tedium, but did you even read the review or see the show? Perhaps if the cast grow in height a bit or give the costume department a good ticking off that will make them better actors.

Anonymous said...

Yes i quite agree that a student planning to go into this industry should get used to the world of criticism. However, if you are going to critise, perhaps you should do your own research and get the names of the performers you are critising correct in the first place

Anonymous said...

does a professional critic only comment on costume. if you were a critic worth there salt you'd see through your design problems and see the acting for what it's worth

Anonymous said...

Only one thing to mention...the Bandmaster only mimed his violin playing (albeit very well I'm sure). There were two casts (Cast 1 and Cast A - so as no-one felt 'second class' I imagine), but the same students played different roles throughout the two weeks depending on the Cast of the performance. I'm told that the 8-piece band (hidden behind the stage in a cramped dressing room) sounded life a much larger ensemble - a credit to the sound team and certainly the skills of MD David Laugharne I think, despite a couple of interesting microphone issues, one of which broadcast a member (no pun intended) having a pee backstage.

rtb said...

I'm not a professional critic but I can, at least, spell the word "their".

rtb said...

And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, closes the dicussion. No further comments will be cleared for posting.

I repeat once again - these are my own thoughts and opinions. I am entitled to express them. If anyone has been offended by my innocently made comments, then my apologies. But "professional actors" know that one should never respond to criticism, but let it appear to be beneath one's notice. To get vicious is the sign of the disappointed, rank amateur.


Anonymous said...

In the words of Philip French:
"It is the critic's duty, I believe, to deliver honest opinions to posterity on the immediate experience of viewing movies, hoping that successors will respect their honest opinions and find them useful, rather than sneer at their insensitivity."

Easily transferable to read plays, musicals, improvisations, and many other variations. Also easily translated as 'get a grip people.'

Anonymous said...

What a bitter OLD twisted queen, its bloody good you don’t get paid for this, you would be a beggar buy now! You should be ashamed of yourself.


Take your comments and opinions and jump into the Thames.

Thank You x

Anonymous said...

It's just a shame there wasn't more emphasis on people's actual acting performances, good or bad. To be told you're too short for a role or not old enough is hardly a judgment of ones talent.

I'm always intruiged as to what 'professional actors' are supposed to 'know' and 'do'. For many it's probably their first review and to get no further comment other than a lack of height/age/costume must be disappointing. I am sure these guys are all too welcome for any sort of review positive or negative as long as it's helpful for them to improve as actors.

I hope I have spelt all of this post correctly to avoid being insulted.

rtb said...

As Voltaire said "I may not agree with what you say, but I defend to the death your right to say it".

I suggest the charming person who made the comments about my age (presumed), my sexual orientation (again presumed) and my ability to swim takes heed of what Voltaire said, and why he said it.

sail on! said...

Hello there, i know it is a few months on, and the case is closed, but, as someone who was involved in this production i would just like to say that no matter what has been said here, indeed everyone is entitled to voice there opinion and it is a healthy thing to do. however i would just like to say that despite the design faults, costume problems and dodgy casting (and other peoples bitchy comments) i met 3 elderly ladies outside the theatre who said they had come to see the show by seeing it advertised, they had nothing to do with mountview, and really enjoyed it so lets leave it on a happy note....that it touched people and that is what the show set out to do, and thank you ( as a young actor, looking for reviews and criticism) for any feedback. i hope this can be posted. thanks.