Titanic The Musical sails into Belfast
As a musical based on the lives and stories for those who boarded the Titanic on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York takes to the Belfast stage, Jenny Lee finds out more from lyricist and composer Maury Yeston and County Antrim actor Ian McLarnon, who plays Titanic architect Thomas Andrews
In the final hours of 14th April 1912, the RMS Titanic, on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York, collided with an iceberg and ‘the unsinkable ship’ slowly sank, with 1517 men, women and children losing their lives.
Titanic The Musical is a poignant and powerful production focusing on the hopes, dreams and aspirations of its passengers who each boarded the ill-fated ship, with stories and personal ambitions of their own.
In the 10th Anniversary tour of the musical, County Antrim actor Ian McLarnon, plays naval architect Thomas Andrews. It’s a role he relates to.
“It's nice to play someone who isn't dissimilar from myself. He’s a Northern Irish gentleman with a church in his background, which I too had growing up. He seems to be the least vilified character.”
Although having studied the Titanic at school, like most children who grew up in the north of Ireland, McLarnon admits he has learnt so much more about the ship and its journey through this musical.
“I didn't know there was this tug of war between the owners pushing it to go faster and Andrews wanting safety to be paramount, with more lifeboats and bulkheads being placed higher up the ship.
“The director told us his designs were out by just a couple of inches and if he'd been allowed to do what he intended, or if they hit the iceberg head-on instead of on the side, it would indeed have been unsinkable.”
Keen to learn even more about the history of the Titanic, McLarnon, like most of the cast, will be taking the opportunity to visit Titanic Belfast and the bar in the Titanic Hotel, which was Andrews’ office.
McLarnon, who worked with the Ulster Operatic Company and the Group Theatre, before studying at Guildford School of Acting has extensive West End experience. He has also starred in Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd as a lead vocalist in Riverdance.
In Titanic The Musical he performs a haunting solo. “Andrews has a big aria at the end of his life about the sinking of the ship,” says McLarnon, who admits the musical is emotional for performers and audiences alike.
“It will be very emotional in Belfast, where people have a very legitimate connection to the ship. Even without that, the music and the way it is written takes you inside the dreams of all the different first, second and third class passengers. It's very moving to see who survives to carry out those dreams and who doesn't.”
In a poignant synergy, Titanic the Musical is the same length – 2 hours 40 minutes – that it took the Titanic to sink.
Unlike James Cameron's Oscar winning film, the emphasis of the musical is upon the true story of the passengers on the Titanic, rather than a fictionalised love story.
“There’s absolutely no link to Celina Dion,” he laughs. “It's a really beautiful score, full of melodies and sweeping choral moments - not a million miles away from some parts of Les Misérables. It's full voice, 25 singers all singing at once, so it's quite impactful.
“We also have a small orchestra, echoing the famous string quartet.”
Almost 111 years after the Titanic sank, McLarnon says the show has contemporary resonance and lessons.
“Class and equality is still a massive issue globally, especially in the light of recent debate about immigration laws. Sadly disregard for the third class passengers who weren't a priority still resonates.”
“One of my favourite things in the theatre is when the audience knows a secret that the people on stage don’t know.
“It’s a grand story about people’s bravery, cowardice and the coming together of humanity. It’s also a story about how we deal with an emergency, how we deal with potential tragedy and how in the final analysis the human spirit is indomitable under the worst circumstances.”
“Despite the tragic ending it shows that we dare and we dare nobly. When we see the examples of self-sacrifice that occur on board the ship, with some people willingly not getting into the lifeboat because they feel others should, there’s inspiration in that too. “
:: Titanic The Musical runs at Belfast’s Grand Opera House, from April 4 -8. Book tickets at Goh.co.uk.