Ghosts of the Titanic at Park Theatre
Most people know about the Titanic, many from James Cameron’s romantic epic of 1997. This new stage account by screenwriter and playwright Ron Hutchinson is part investigative drama, part noir performance, and a moving narrative digging deeper into conspiracy theories surrounding the event.
Traumatised by the death of her fiancé, Henry George Barton, who boarded the ship as a pianist in the orchestra, Emma Hinton (Genevieve Gaunt) is on a mission to uncover the truth. She is rescued from a near accident by down-on-his-luck journalist Molloy (John Hopkins,) whose intentions are far from chivalrous as he searches for a juicy headline and strikes up a friendship with the bereaved woman. Emma is understandably distraught in the wake of the events that caused the liner to sink, and Gaunt’s grief is credible. However, it is Fergal McElhernon’s ship designer McBride who steals the show, alongside Lizzy McInnemy’s Swanson (Molloy’s editor) in a formidable portrayal, coincidentally striking a resemblance with Rose’s mother from Cameron’s film.
The script is surprisingly witty and direction by Eoin O’Callaghan utilises the minimal space well. Yet, as the story develops, it starts to feel a little longwinded. When hard-talking private investigator Spinks (Sarah Ridgeway) enters the scene, the drama plunges farther into conspiracy theory territory. Sustaining the audience to an extent, Hutchinson’s script veers (not unlike a ship) to and fro between the intensely serious and the amusing, exhibiting the writer’s strength. There are uncanny details: the connections of some of the most powerful businessmen in the world like JP Morgan, Rockefeller and Hershey, as well as the doubt surrounding whether it really was an iceberg that led the ship to sink or fires in the coal bunker that endangered it. As Emma finds herself in ever deeper waters, McBride warns her, “Ask the wrong questions, you’ll get a hatchet in the head.”
The challenges presented and the suspicion of a scandal are what make Hutchinson’s drama worth watching, along with the convincing performances. It does frustrate – as it’s meant to – with the lack of female autonomy, making Emma a hysterical woman when all she wants is to uncover the truth. As the audience is confronted, they are briefed on the account, but she soon forgets her name, after having been placed in a sanatorium. Like innumerable reports from this period and beyond, money talks, and women are led to insanity through the most insidious gaslighting and coverups.
Ghosts of the Titanic is at Park Theatre from 9th March until 2nd April 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.