Commissioned by the Belfast Titanic Company, in association with the Lyric Theatre and funds provided by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Rosemary Jenkinson’s White Star of the North embarks upon its maiden voyage at the Lyric Theatre from March 24.
White Star of the North looks at how events at home and abroad altered the course of one Belfast family’s life forever. White Star of the North begins in a lower middle class house in Belfast where the Protestant Massey family – father, son and daughter – are torn apart by fears of Home Rule in Ireland and religious discrimination.
Against this troubled backdrop, two of the Massey family set out to start new lives in America, the land of civil and religious freedom, and of infinite opportunity. The ship they sail upon is the Titanic. On that fateful night, Crawford Massey acts in a way that will impact on the rest of his life.
'White Star of the North is inspired by the society, the politics, the industry, the people and the public mores of Belfast in 1912,' said Jenkinson. 'Just as in 2012, it was a new Belfast that was going places and the people were going places too.
'It’s based on some of my own family history, such as my grandfather emigrating to America, which I think gives the play real truth. Amongst a whole flotilla of Titanic plays this year, I want this one to stand out as both public and private, sweeping and intimate. At its simplest, I'd like it to be a big play about a big ship in a big era.'
'White Star of the North will be an important part of the Titanic Festival of Creative Arts later in April,' said Richard Mackenzie, chairman of the Belfast Titanic Company. 'The festival has a focus on new work from Northern Ireland and highlights the creative energy which has given a positive impetus to Belfast for over a century.'
Playing the lead role of a young Ulsterman with dreams of fighting for King and Country is Andrew Simpson. In addition to Notes on a Scandal, Simpson has appeared in Song for a Raggy Boy – about an Irish reform school – Perrier’s Bounty alongside Brendan Gleeson, and has recently completed filming on two features, Saving the Titanic and Good Vibrations.
'I can’t wait to make my Lyric Theatre debut in this fabulous play,' said Simpson. 'I know that I’ll be following in the footsteps of actors including Liam Neeson, Ciaran Hinds and, more recently, Adrian Dunbar and Kenneth Branagh. The Lyric has a superb track record of producing high quality theatre and I’m delighted to be part of White Star of the North.
'I was very lucky being cast in some major films early in my career, but I’ve always wanted to enjoy the buzz of live theatre and I’m very happy that I’ve finally got the chance to act in the Lyric. I’m nervous and excited and I know that it’s a lot of responsibility. The first time I was in the building was for the audition and it blew me away. It’s tremendous and I’m looking forward to calling it home for the next few months.'
Also in the cast are Michael Liebmann and Ruairi Conaghan, who appeared in the Lyric’s opening production of The Crucible, and Roisin Gallagher from Dockers.
Damian Smyth, Head of Drama and Literature at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, commented: 'The Arts Council was delighted to be able to fund a brand new contemporary theatre piece marking the Titanic centenary. The story will have great appeal to both local audiences and international visitors to the city.'
White Star of the North is in the Naughton Studio of the Lyric Theatre from March 24 to April 14. Tickets can be booked online at the Lyric Theatre website or by phoning the Lyric Theatre on (028) 9038 1081.