Tag Archives: Victoria Serra

“Titanic” at the Charing Cross Theatre

Maury Yeston’s musical, set on the doomed ocean liner, won five Tony Awards, and praise for this production from the Southwark Playhouse has followed it around the world. Now that director Thom Southerland has taken up residence at an oddly charming venue underneath Charing Cross, there’s another chance to see the show. And it’s every bit as good as critics say.

Yeston, with the story and book from Peter Stone, succeeds in making a well-known story exciting enough. Seeing the ship as a microcosm of society is neat, if hardly novel. It’s all about the details, and a careful and inventive execution along with an ambitious and intelligent score ensure success here.

There’s the combination of observing different classes of passengers, mankind’s inevitable search for “progress”, and plenty of emotion when the boat sinks. Impressively, the dangers of Downton Abbey kitsch are avoided and the excitement and glamour of the boat is persuasive, despite audience hindsight. And get ready for tears before the end, with characters we have come to love at a rate of, well it would have to be, knots.

Niall Sheehy photographed by Annabel Vere
Niall Sheehy photographed by Annabel Vere

The production is hugely impressive. Southerland’s direction is faultless, a miracle of economically effective staging. David Woodhead’s set and costume design are smart, facilitating swift role changes for the 20-strong cast. Yes, 20 –and all performing at the highest standard. One bold thing about Titanic is that there aren’t ‘leading’ roles so it isn’t really fair to highlight individual performers. But indulge me. Niall Sheehy’s role as a coal miner stands out (there just aren’t enough songs about men from the Midlands in musicals) and I can’t resist pointing out that the cast includes the excellent Victoria Serra.

Of course, it’s Yeston who’s the real star. The lyrics, filled as they are with facts and figures, could so easily have failed, but the score energises them remarkably: combining waltz themes with historical references such as rag, inspired contemporary touches and a big choral sound that uses that huge cast superbly. This is a truly accomplished score. Adoration of the ship, described as a “perfectly working machine” could carry to a critique of the musical – its well-engineered construction is a marvel.

Until 13 August 2016


Main photo by  Scott Rylander

“Grand Hotel” at the Southwark Playhouse

George Forrest and Robert Wright’s 1989 Broadway hit (with Maury Yeston’s input), has a revival by the excellent Thom Southerland that lives up to the ‘grand’ in its title. Set in 1928 Berlin, its location serves to show a slice of upstairs high life, with a glimpse of downstairs tragedy, and every emotion imaginable along the way. With guests and staff squaring off from the start, a narrator, ably performed by David Delve, sets the cynical, smart tone of a show that embraces confrontation and drama.

Luther Davis’s book, adapting the novel by Vicki Baum that was filmed in 1932, crams the stories into this packed hostelry. Southerland juggles them expertly. Central to a theme of observing life is the terminally ill Otto, played superbly by George Rae, anxious to experience glamour while he still can, right down to cartwheeling. Bravo! The desperation of other characters is less existential; it’s all about the money. What make the show so interesting are the swift story arcs that change goodies to baddies, crooks to romantics, in the space of a song.

Grand Hotel 5 Christine Grimandi Scott Garnham Photo Aviv Ron
Christine Grimandi and Scott Garnham

While you might expect more standout numbers, the score is best regarded as a whole rather than in parts, intelligently creating the “din of old Berlin”. Jacob Chapman has the most adventurous song, which he delivers powerfully. Victoria Serra, as aspiring actress Flaemmchen, gives a rendition of ‘Girl In The Mirror’ that should have stopped the show. And a thieving Baron with a “talent for living” becomes truly noble with Scott Garnham’s performance of the musical’s most gorgeous ballad. The object of the Baron’s affections is the ageing ballerina Elizaveta – the kind who memorises her reviews – and Christine Grimandi is sure to get good notices for a performance that boasts the best comic timing in an often dark show.

There’s a cruel edge to this grown-up Grand Hotel, but nothing dour about Southerland’s staging – in traverse, making the most of his huge cast – and there’s real heat and hustle here. I detected a wish to focus more on the staff, pushed as far as it can be, that makes for a fascinating, layered feel. Along with astounding choreography by Lee Proud, especially with the witty ‘Who Couldn’t Dance With You’ sequence, the finale is a kaleidoscopic affair of pure spectacle. Our narrator might melodramatically see “chambers of discontent” in his hotel, but this production is so polished, I’ve no complaints about my stay.

Until 5 September


Photos by Aviv Ron