41N 50W – the Titanic on stage in London

I’m looking forward to seeing a new play about the Titanic disaster, which is being showcased in London later this week.

Written by Robert Neal Marshall, the American actor and director, 41N 50W tells the story of the tragedy through the eyes of witnesses and survivors.

Their words are taken from the US Senate inquiry into the disaster, which opened in New York on Friday April 19, 1912, just four days after the sinking itself.

41N 50W is in the Studio at St James Theatre, 12 Palace St, London SW1, with performances on Thursday October 4 at 3pm and 8pm, and Friday October 5 at 6pm and 8.30pm.

Raising the Titanic in London’s Docklands

Many thanks to Adrian Ward for sending me his photos of Raising The Titanic, staged almost thirty years ago by performance group Welfare State International. Described by Artistic Director John Fox as “part theatre, part encampment, part community gathering”, Raising The Titanic took place in Regent’s Canal Dock Basin in Limehouse as part of the London International Festival of Theatre.

An “allegorical political and mythological extravaganza”, designed to highlight how greed-fuelled redevelopment was changing London’s docklands, it was performed over twelve evenings in July and August 1983. Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, and the actual wreckage of the Titanic had yet to be re-discovered.

After the original idea of re-floating a sunken barge by pumping it full of air proved too difficult to repeat to a precise schedule, the company ended up using a crane to raise an eighty-foot scaffolding framework out of the water.

As Adrian remembers it:

Raising The Titanic was a genuinely spectacular event, much closer to carnival than to “drama”, starting with food and drink and ending with dancing and fireworks.  It was also political at many levels; only a year had passed since the Falklands war and the sinking of the Belgrano, so the images of disaster and loss at sea had a very contemporary resonance.

Just before the ship went down the band played the (still relevant?) Unthinkable Song:

Don’t think the unthinkable.

Dance to the ragtime band.

How could they sink the unsinkable?

Trust in the Captain’s hand.

Let’s drink what is drinkable.

Nobody’s going to drown.

How could they sink the unsinkable?

How could the world burn down?