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Ghosts of the Titanic at Park Theatre – review

The world premiere begins its run in Finsbury Park

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
The cast of Ghosts of the Titanic
© Piers Foley

The subject matter that inspires Ron Hutchinson's Ghosts of the Titanic is at least interesting in itself. Curiosity and intrigue that surround why the boat actually sank is what prompted the Belfast playwright to pen a five-part series for Radio 4 a few years ago, diving into the ship's folklore.

It is not impossible to imagine this kind of story working in radio format or that these myths might be excellent material for a late-night television documentary. Sadly it is a difficult task to craft an entertaining play out of the same fables.

Set in 1912 New York, Ghosts of the Titanic focuses on the trauma of a fiancée who loses her husband during the disaster. Emma, played by Genevieve Gaunt, is initially approached by an opportunistic journalist named Molloy (John Hopkins), on the hunt for an exclusive headline to please his editor and pay his rent. But as the play develops, events that once seemed fit only for the back pages of a tabloid newspaper become very murky indeed and begin to implicate some of the most powerful figures in early 20th century America.

In reality, the plot feels very tenuous. Whilst you can allow that most thrillers are granted a degree of artistic licence and not supposed to be completely believable, Ghosts of the Titanic pushes this too far. Plot twists and big reveals come across less as moments of shock or climax, and are more likely to leave you scratching your head. The play also has quite a strange and frustrating relationship between serious drama and attempts at light-hearted comedy – characters continually deviate from supposedly vital moments in the story to make weak wisecracks. The effect of these forced jokes is to make the whole affair feel less like a slick neo-noir detective story, and more corny and contrived by comparison.

Arguably the best moments involve Fergal McElherron as McBride, a guilt-ridden engineer who blames himself for the ship's fate. These scenes have a modicum of charisma and offer respite from what can otherwise be quite a monotonous experience. Tone of voice is one of this production's largest problems, as though every line in the play has an exclamation mark at its end.

The saddest thing you could say about Ghosts of the Titanic is that at no point does it feel especially exciting or as though there is much at stake. Rather than being an active participant, you find yourself simply drifting through the experience and waiting patiently for the journey to reach its conclusion.