Review: Ghosts of the Titanic (Park Theatre)

We live in a time where fake news reigns supreme. What if nothing we are officially fed through print media and broadcasts is the truth?

Ghosts of the Titanic is set in the time following the disaster – near enough for it to be in the immediate memory, far enough for people to have moved on, hungry for other stories.

Emma Hinton (Genevieve Gaunt) is a young woman looking for answers. Her fiance, Henry, was a musician in the orchestra. Legend and heroism has it they played as the ship sank, ‘Nearer My God To Thee’.

Armed with doubts and a purse full of newspaper clippings, Emma has a fortuitous meeting with newsman Danny Malloy (John Hopkins), Irish Catholic with a nose for a story.

So, after an opening tableau with the cast of six, silent, we are in the editor’s office of a Hearst paper. A hardboiled woman who has clawed her way to the top with secrets and griefs of her own, Swanson (Lizzy McInnerny) is tough, cynical, determined.

Production image for Ghosts of the Titanic

There were many conspiracy theories floating around as the Titanic lay on the ocean bed. Just as with the assassination of Kennedy five decades later, there were rumours of orders coming from those in power. In Ron Hutchinson’s play, Emma is the mouthpiece for theories which become more and more preposterous, yet we still lean in to listen.

Malloy is a puzzle. A wit, a watcher, a wildcard. He knows the dangers in the bowels of poverty-stricken New York; he knows about chasing money. But is he the exploiter, or the exploited?

This is a play of vastly different halves. Act One sets up the mystery and peoples it with stereotypes including the puritanical Protestant McBride (Fergal McElherron), carrying his guilt high enough to obscure what he might see following.

After the interval, we are in quite different territory. A Pinkerton lady detective (Sarah Ridgeway), as corrupt as they come (“I’m doing this for the paycheck”); a psychiatrist straight from Freud.

If we were convinced when we went into the break, we are given quite a shake now. As Emma finds, women don’t always have a voice, and men who do may find themselves in watery graves.

Production image from Ghosts of the Titanic

Directed by Eoin O’Callaghan, Ghosts of the Titanic mixes fact with fiction. There were Hintons on the Titanic. There are rumours still given credence today about rushed workmanship, and unheroic behaviour at the lifeboats.

Brill Productions, led by Clive Brill who plays the psychiatrist, have brought this play to an uneasy life. Sometimes the dialogue is too glib, the characters too cliche, but now and again there are nuggets – Swanson’s shaking hands, McBride’s poetics.

Beth Colley’s set design suggests the docks, a hotel (clearly high-end, with afternoon tea and en-suite bathrooms), the yawn of the river. Peeling posters of fading colour remind us of the White Line.

Ghosts of the Titanic perplexes, but has enough atmosphere and intrigue to keep you wanting to know more.

You can see Ghosts of the Theatre at Park Theatre until 2 April – book your tickets here.

Image credit: Piers Foley