1912 – Titanic

1912- Titanic

BYTE Master Class Actors

Buderim War Memorial Hall.

Friday 1 June 2012

Reviewed by Ayla Vashti in conversation with Xanthe Coward

Ayla Vashti is in Year 6 at Eumundi State School on the Sunshine Coast

Ayla Vashti and Poppy Coward at 1912 – Titanic

Ed’s note: Peta Beattie, with her original work, Romanov and now with this latest work, 1912 – Titanic under her belt, may not be as well known as some of the winners from our local playwriting competitions but she is undoubtedly one of our best local playwrights and I can’t wait to see more from her. This is a wonderful piece for any accomplished group of young (or old) actors to get their teeth into. I love the way Peta is able to balance the horror, terror and tragedy of life with the simple good humour of the everyday. Somewhere within all historical accounts, there are the ordinary people and how they felt at the time of the disaster that changed their lives. Peta manages to capture these thoughts and emotions and challenge ours.

In the 100th Anniversary year of the tragedy of the Titanic, Peta Beattie thought it apt to tell the stories of some of the people involved in this famous historical event, in a series of short vignettes. We meet many characters over the first act of this new work and not all of them nice to know but all of them about to board the Titanic on her maiden voyage from Southhampton in the UK to New York City in the USA. Almost the whole first act is all about the different backgrounds of the people who would risk their lives by boarding the ship.

The first person we saw was drunk and had killed his wife. His name was William Mintram. I think the actor chosen for this character was a good choice because he acted the part with reality and we believed him. He looked like he meant it. We saw him again at the end, with his boy and the ghost of his wife (Saskia Wass) and it was very sad. The Fortune family was also played well. The father, Mark Fortune was very life-like and he acted like I would have thought him to be like if I had read about him before seeing him. Ethel Fortune was a very big telltale and I felt like I was there, listening to her gossip. Ethel and her two sisters were very different characters, each with their own qualities and they only got along when they had to reach a lifeboat to be saved. Their father was a stern man and very strict; qualities which the actor showed honestly and made me grateful that we are not living like those children did at that time, with such strict parents who make the girls marry and make the poor son stay and drown “a man”. Because they were so wealthy, this family could basically do whatever they wanted, just like all the first class passengers could do.

The other wealthy people included the famous Mrs Margaret (Molly) Brown, played by Brodie Shelley, whose performance we really enjoyed. She was relaxed and natural on stage. Another lighter character was the American actress, Mary Warner Marvin  (Katherine Ernst) and her husband (Riley Cope). This couple was lovely to watch and seemed to be a good match, working well together to get the comedy right. We also met a maid and her mistress (Ashleigh Holmes) and the husband of her mistress (Isaac Saunders), who was another awful male character (but he got his comeuppance in the end), another maid (this one Italian) and her mistress, the Countess de Rothes (Caroline McAllister) and a travelling companion. The women treated the Italian maid meanly and didn’t think about how she might like to spend her time on the ship. The only happy people seemed to be the poor people, most of them Irish, who were travelling on a different deck or working in the boiler room.

These Irish characters, very poor, third class passengers, were delightful, dancing and singing and joking around. One of the highlights of the show was their high-energy dance scene, which also managed to move the plot along because we saw the relationships developing as the dance went on into the night. One fellow, tall and gangly, with the largest hands and the longest fingers I’ve seen on a stage, was hilarious. At times his mate was too drunk to even walk straight but he stuck by him and I guess they drowned together at the bottom of the ship after letting the ladies go through to the deck. The taller actor provided a lot of the laughs throughout the play and Xanthe thinks he has a real Michael Crawford quality about him. Perhaps we’ll see him play P.T. Barnum next!

The interesting thing about this play is that it’s not just sad. There is a lot of humour in it because the people are the real people, based on newspaper reports and other print media of the day, their diaries, personal belongings and accounts from the people who knew them. The playwright must have done a lot of reading and research to write characters that so easily come to life. Xanthe said that she has made it easy for the actors, giving them beautifully drawn characters that we can relate to. We feel so sad to lose them because we’ve gotten to know them along the way. This is a gift to actors and the gift of a good writer.

Xanthe thinks the flow of the play was hindered by clunky scene changes and perhaps too many at that. It might be possible to pre-set some of the scenes in darkness so we are not waiting so long to see the story go on. Because it’s so unexpected to have to wait so long until disaster occurs, we need the story to go on quite quickly to get to it. Xanthe says that the tension built well all the same and I agree. The music, which already gave us clues about characters before the lights came up on each scene, and the way the characters start to get worried about taking the trip, help to build the tension. As my Uncle Sam said, we know what is going to happen. It’s not like the ship won’t sink in the end because it did. Because it’s true. It’s very sad to think of all those people, drowning or choosing to end their own lives before the sea took them. The actors made all the panic and terror seem real but unfortunately, we couldn’t hear a lot of what they were saying once the ship struck the iceberg because the music and sound effects were so loud. The volume of the impact made it very scary to be sitting there in the dark as people on stage screamed and ran for their lives. My little cousin, Poppy, was scared and Xanthe had to cuddle her until the awful time when everyone was just waiting for the ship to sink. The ship didn’t have enough lifeboats on board so many, many people died when they would have otherwise been saved.

Apparently, we heard the actual music that was played by the musicians as the ship sank. It was a beautiful hymn, Nearer My God to Thee, which was played very well by a violinist, Henry Jeaffreson. This made the end much sadder. It’s strange how some music sometimes has that effect.

There are some things that might have been similar to the James Cameron film, or any other film for that matter, because it’s a true story. The difference in this play is that we see more of so many more of the people. This would be a great play for schools to do because so many kids can have a role. But they must be good actors to make us believe them and be happy that they are telling the true story of the Titanic. I hope they would have the same beautiful costumes too.

The whole cast came out at the end, after the ship sank, like ghosts, to sing the hymn and we wanted them to take a bow but they didn’t, they just left. It was a strange, sad way to end the show and I would have given them all an extra round of applause if they’d stayed to take a bow. Xanthe says after such an extraordinary, emotional journey, we all needed to be reminded that it was just actors on stage and we needed to give them their applause because they earned it. Maybe the director would let them take a bow next time, or not necessarily bow but, like Xanthe says, stand and take their applause.

Ed’s note: taking two young girls to see this incredibly sad story played out before us was a bit of a gamble but they got so much out of it and the discussions we’ve had since have been very valuable (and at times, very entertaining!). This was a good reminder that we all go away with something very different from the theatre and also, that most children still do not see enough drama outside of the cinema or the living room. The BYTE Master Class Actors have done an incredible job bringing these people to life. It’s clear that Director, Robyn Ernst has allowed time and space for the actors to fully realise their characters and, working together, they deliver a pretty slick production to commemorate beautifully, those who perished with the Titanic 100 years ago.

1 Response to “1912 – Titanic”

  1. June 4, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    We’re so glad that you all learned about these real people and their experience on the Titanic girls. It certainly has been a huge emotional journey for us all. Thank you so much for coming. We think we will have to do a return season after the students finish their exams and the holidays, so that more people can see this amazing play. PS Point taken on them getting their accolades. They do deserve them.

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