Tag Archives: Simon Green

Breaking the Ice

TITANIC – The Musical

Birmingham Hippodrome, Monday 4th June, 2018


This story about belief in the infallibility of technology is delayed by a technical hitch, sort of foreshadowing what is to befall the ill-fated ‘unsinkable’ ship – although there can’t be a soul in the house who doesn’t know the story; it is a disaster branded in the public imagination and therefore, any retelling is flooded with dramatic irony.  The audience knows what’s coming but the crew and passengers do not, and so it is the job of the script to try to engage us with the lives of individuals before the main event disrupts everything.  And here – and only here – is where this musical adaptation is scuppered.  It’s a safe bet that the women (and children) are likely to survive; their husbands, beaux, fathers etc, not so much.  There are too many characters and too little time for us to be manipulated into caring about any of them very much, given that we know they have a date with an iceberg, and there is very little opportunity for characters to develop and endear them to us.  Lines like “I believe this will be my final voyage” clang like dropped anchors.

But it’s very well presented.  David Woodhead’s riveted steel proscenium frames a simple set with an upper and lower deck and a movable set of stairs, while his fabulous Edwardian costumes evoke the sense of period.  Maury Yeston’s music and lyrics are Sondheimesque in tone and effect (I mean that as a compliment, of course), giving the cast, individuals and chorus alike, plenty of opportunity to belt their hearts out.  Director Thom Southerland tackles the wrecking of the ship with simple, stylised staging, enough to tease the imagination – we don’t even see the lifeboats, let alone the iceberg, but where the show has greatest impact is where the survivors stand before a role call of all those who perished, the lettering too small to be read, because those lost souls are, after all, unknowable.

Among the large cast several stand-out performances arise: Simon Green’s arrogant, hubristic J Bruce Ismay; Greg Costiglioni’s passionate Mr Andrews; Claire Machin’s social-climbing Alice; Lewis Cornay’s appealing Bell Boy and bandleader; and the mighty Niall Sheehy as Fred the boilerman.  Sheehy is set up as the hero of the piece and sings like one – but of course, poor Fred is no superman, and his sacrifice is almost understated.

Others have their moments: Judith Street and Dudley Rogers as the elderly Mr and Mrs Straus have a touching scene, deciding to face their fates together; Captain Smith (Philip Rham), Mr Ismay and Mr Andrews have a great scene in which they lash out, each blaming the others for the shipwreck.  A trio of girls, introduced as the Three Kates, show promise but only one (Victoria Serra) gets any real stage time – and makes the most of it.

By the end, I’m wondering if musical theatre was the way to go.  Perhaps a docu-drama style would have been more appropriate in bringing home the scale of the enterprise and the enormity of its loss.  And should a disaster – any disaster – be the basis of a piece of entertainment?  As it is, this Titanic is great on the ears, but leaves the heartstrings of this reviewer unplucked.


Niall Sheehy’s Fred before it all goes belly-up (Photo: Scott Rylander)

Another Outing


New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 20th October, 2015


The big pink bus is back on the road and it’s better than ever. This tour has been touched up, so to speak, re-vamped for extra glitz and glamour. Based on the cult film, it’s the kind of show to which people keep returning. Why?

Basically, you know you’re in for a good time. The score is comprised of pop and disco hits, the script is packed with funny one-liners, and the message is still relevant, still life-affirming even though no one is forcing anything down anyone’s throat. It’s an explosion of light, colour and humanity, a clarion call for tolerance in the face of brutal homophobia. What struck me this time is the relationship between Tick (who, shockingly, is married to a woman!) and his estranged son. Tick worries the boy will reject him but Benji (Toby Gretton) turns out to be the most accepting, tolerant and loving person in the whole show. You see, folks: if you don’t teach your kids to be homophobic (or racist, sexist, or what-have-you) they won’t grow up to espouse those attitudes.

Jason Donovan returns to the role of Tick and is just about perfect. While he was lip-synching I’ve Never Been To Me I reflected on just how many years he has been around. I don’t know when it happened exactly but the mulleted soap star turned pop star pin-up has developed into one of our most popular, respected and skilful performers. He receives a warm hand on his entrance and an ovation at his curtain call. In between, he is superb: sassy but sensitive, sardonic but sweet. When he sings, his rich tones give you shivers. In this context Say A Little Prayer takes on a whole new meaning when it’s about a drag queen singing to the son he’s never met.

Simon Green is spot on as aging transsexual Bernadette, delivering elegance and barbed put-downs in equal measure. The charm and grace hide an inner strength and resilience most ‘real men’ lack. Adam Bailey is adorably annoying as young Adam, out for fun and ending up in hot water. More than eye candy, Bailey is an electrifying performer. Hot Stuff indeed.

There is strong support from a hard-working and versatile ensemble. Naomi Slights is appealing as Tick’s wife Marion – the only female not caricatured in the entire piece – while Catherine Mort’s redneck barmaid Shirley is hilarious in her repulsiveness. Julie Yammanee’s Cynthia is outrageously funny – her speciality act is eye-popping, shall we say?

Callum Macdonald Tina-Turners it up as drag artiste Miss Understanding, warming us up for the main event. By contrast, Philip Childs’s Bob is a down-to-earth Aussie bloke who finds himself enchanted by the considerable charms of Bernadette.

It’s a party as much as a musical. The feel-good factor is undeniable but there is more to the show than that. Beneath all the feathers and sequins (Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner’s Oscar-winning costumes are a cavalcade of comic invention) run the emotions we all share. The show reminds us we’re all human. In a time when homophobia still blights the lives of millions in unenlightened corners of the world, Priscilla’s latest outing may be preaching to the converted but it’s an important affirmation of human rights, an irresistible blast of light and boost to the soul.

Jason Donovan as Tick (Photo: Paul Coltas)

Jason Donovan as Tick (Photo: Paul Coltas)