By Hilary Porter

WHEN Titanic composer Maury Yeston told people he was going to write a show about the worst maritime disaster in history their response was 'Are you crazy!'

But, with a book by Peter Stone, he set out to create a show all about people’s dreams, their sacrifice and their strength in extreme adversity and opened on Broadway in 1997 winning five Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

Now following its critically acclaimed runs at Southwark Playhouse and Charing Cross Theatre, the first ever UK and Ireland tour has most fittingly launched in Southampton - coming home to the city where the legendary ship set sail on its doomed maiden voyage in 1912.

It's Mayflower run - which concludes on Saturday, has also been suitably dramatic. The opening night performance was abandoned just after the ship hit the iceberg after plaster started falling from the back wall, prompting sensationalised national media headlines about the crumbling set. There was also an eerie real-time performance on April 14 to coincide with the actual time the legendary ship sank exactly 106 years ago.

Fortunately it was plain sailing at last night's press night. I expected to be impressed but more than that I was completely swept away by the raw emotion and poignancy of this fascinating, historically accurate show which meticulously chronicles what took place, even right down to how many oranges and bottles of wine were on board.

It conveyed just how significant this "unsinkable ship" was: a "'floating city', one quarter of a mile long, "the largest moving object in the world" and it was, in deed, a mini metropolis where three different rigid social classes exist, each with dreams and aspirations.

Unaware of the fate that awaits them, the Third Class immigrants dream of a better life in America, the newly-enfranchised Second Class dream of achieving the lifestyles of the rich and famous, and the millionaire Barons of the First Class dream of their mastery lasting forever.

Central to the show, however, are the real people whose real stories are told, and with so many of the passengers and crew coming from Southampton they are stories that cut deep. I don't want to give too much away but weaving the various real love stories through the action and the manner in which the heart-breaking facts and realities are revealed is heart-breaking.

The super-talented, hard-working 25-strong cast slip effortlessly between parts giving the illusion of so many more and their soaring, crystal clear vocals are breath-taking.

Yeston's rousing, emotionally charged choral music and lyrics drive the story along, leaving you hanging on every word. The set is perfectly simple and the staging highly engaging and intelligent whist the costumes transport us straight back to the era.

One of the most memorable evenings I have spent in a theatre, Titanic the Musical is a must-see show and the most fitting tribute to the 1517 men, women and children so tragically lost and commemorated.