WT STEAD’S chair took to the stage last night like a duck to water, like a newly-launched ship to the sea.
It is 130 years since its owner left Darlington on his voyage through life that ended when he was the most famous British man to go down on the Titanic. Since then, the chair has waited for this moment – its destiny – in a dusty corner of the editor’s office.
Let out for the first time for its roll-on part (it is on castors), it seized its moment in the spotlight. It stole its scene in the first-class smoking salon, commanding the stage with a presence that a piece of flatpack furniture from Ikea could not hope to muster.
But as for today’s editor who sat upon it… Last night was the maiden performance of Titanic – the Musical by Darlington Operatic Society at the Civic Theatre. Stead, the editor of the Echo in the 1870s, was so impressed by the gargantuan Titanic that when he looked up at it on the dockside in April 1912, he approvingly called it “a monstrous floating babylon”.
The same could be said of the production. It is grand beyond compare, with opulent sets (starring a chair), stirring yet unsettling music, and enormous themes of hopes and dreams, and the fragility of grandiose human schemes.
There’s an imperious captain who is not quite in charge, and a hen-pecked husband who lost his socialclimbing wife years ago.
There’s a wonderfully nerdy telegrapher, and a dastardly villain in the shape of the owner, J Bruce Ismay, who is driving the ship ever onwards across the ocean, ever faster to its inevitable fate. Perhaps the most powerful scene is when he, the captain and the designer squabble in song, apportioning blame – a most human of failings.
It is invidious to single out a single character because all deserve mention, and there was general admiration on the stairs afterwards at the production’s professionalism and polish.
Of course, one character caught my eye. Although he has not made much of a song and dance about it, current Echo editor Peter Barron is, like the chair, making his debut on the Civic stage. He plays his illustrious predecessor, WT Stead.
Mercifully, Barron’s part is but a small one. He is a man of many talents, but not necessarily of a thespian kind.
However, he successfully walked across the stage without tripping over, and he triumphantly boarded the boat without his beard coming off. He remembered his entrances and, unlike in rehearsal, his book.
He even threw a fine, accusatory finger as he, Steadlike, demanded information from a steward.
But he was upstaged by the chair, which was relaxed in the spotlight, whereas he looked just a little wooden.
Tickets for the show, which runs until Saturday, May 5, cost £17 for adults and £13 for children. To book, call 01325- 244659 or visit darlingtonos.
org.uk Don’t miss The Northern Echo critic’s review of Titanic – The Musical in tomorrow’s paper – and Peter Barron’s exclusive video diary from behind the scenes will appear on northernecho.co.uk