The Titanic Boys and Martin Lynch
Waiting for the Titanic craze to be over? Don't hold your breath. The Grand Opera House brings something new to the story
The woeful end to the Titanic's maiden voyage has a unique grip on popular imagination, particularly in Northern Ireland. It was a tragedy, but an avoidable one, and while hardly egalitarian (62% of first class passengers survived, compared to 25% of steerage passengers), all the classes were in one boat. Literally.
Even so, after weeks of Titanic-related art and performances, audiences are starting to suffer from iceberg fatigue. So is Martin Lynch, writer and director of the upcoming The Titanic Boys at the Grand Opera House, worried?
'I don't know if people will be Titanic'd out, Titanic'd in or want it to sink all over again,' Lynch shrugs. 'All I know is that we have a fabulous story, a real Belfast story.'
The story is that of Harland and Wolff's 'guarantee group', five senior tradesmen and four of the company's best apprentices, who not only built but sailed on the Titanic. Their job was to make sure that the plumbing, electricity and so on all worked to spec. And, as Lynch points out scathingly, everything did. Belfast built the Titanic and the employees of the White Star Line sunk her.
It is a play that was eight years in the making. Lynch and musician Francis McPeake first wrote a shorter version of The Titanic Boys for Belfast City Council. 'I didn't want to write a play about the Titanic,' Lynch admits. 'I said I would only do it if I found a really good Belfast connection. I was gobsmacked to discover the story of the guarantee boys. I fell in love with the story.'
He admits that, when he started planning this performance of The Titanic Boys at the Grand Opera House two years ago, he had no idea that 'there would be 3,000 plays and 27 TV series about it'. He is confident, however, that no-one else has 'done a story about the Titanic that will be so rooted in Belfast'.
An exclusive preview excerpt of the play, performed to an audience of reviewers, journalists and Grand Opera House regulars, was well-received.
The apprentice boys, Alfie Cunningham (age 21, apprentice fitter, Spamount St), Ennis Watson (age 18, apprentice electrician, Madrid St), William Campbell (age 17, apprentice plumber, Earl St) and Frankie Parkes (age 18, apprentice plumber, Agincourt St), are engaging and likeable as they bicker and banter their way through introductions.
There are still over two months before the play's opening night, and some contracts have yet to be signed, but the actors seem completely at ease in their roles. They take the audience from pensive to passionate, before easing into the final tragedy.
Despite it being a bare bones performance, quite a few members of the audience were moved to sniffles, if not quite tears, at the eulogistic final scene. The apprentice's antics were nearly enough to make us forget that the Titanic story is always going to be a tragedy.
Ciaran Nolan, who plays apprentice electrician Ennis Watson, says that, 'The great thing about this play is that everyone knows the stuff about Lord Pirrie and Thomas Andrews, but this a story about people who could have lived around the corner from you. They were young lads who took part in a great adventure, that sadly had a tragic end.'
The Titanic Boys runs at the Grand Opera House from August 8 - 25. For more information and other plays at the Grand Opera House check out CultureNorthernIreland's What's On guide.