NationalTheatre Winter Highlights
Juno and the Paycock by Sean O’Casey
A co-production with the Abbey Theatre, Ireland Sinéad Cusack plays Juno Boyle and Ciarán Hinds her husband in Sean O’Casey’s devastating portrait of 1920s Dublin.
‘Amesmerisingmixofcomedy and tragedy.’ Daily Mail
Until 26 February isk ilF
The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare
Lenny Henry makes his National Theatre debut playing Antipholus of Syracuse in a new production of Shakespeare’s furiously-paced comedy.
Sponsored by is
Travelling Lightanewplay byNicholasWright rout liverP
She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith
Antony Sher returns to the National in Nicholas Wright’s new play: a funny, fascinating tribute to the birth of movie-making.
From 11 January
The ingenious classic comedy of chaos and courtship, with a cast including Katherine Kelly as Kate Hardcastle and Steven Pemberton and Sophie Thompson as her parents. From 24 January
020 7452 3000 • nationaltheatre.org.uk South Bank, London SE1 9PX Waterloo, Embankment Waterloo, Charing Cross No booking fee p u l p i t f r a n c e s w i l s on
Were we to list the Titanic’s legacies, at the top would come the effect of the ship on writing. The sinking of the world’s largest metaphor turned everyone into a writer; those who had never before opened a book or penned a line now found themselves visited by the muse. Hundreds of poems by the public appeared in special Titanic anthologies. Because national grief is endlessly forgiving of literary crimes, lines such as
The steamer Titanic, was unsinkable, Or so they thunk, For on her first trip out, She plumb done sunk were greeted with the same grave applause as Thomas Hardy’s memorial poem, ‘The Convergence of the Twain’. Newspapers were inexhaustible in their coverage of the story; the New York Times devoted seventy-five pages to the Titanic in the first week after the disaster alone. Survivors’ accounts were rushed into print, and journalists like Filson Young put together instant ‘biographies’ of the ship. Virginia Woolf wrote to a friend that ‘what I should really like to do now, but must refrain, is a full account of the wreck of the Titanic’. She wrote The Voyage Out instead, about another journey from which there was no return.
One hundred years later and we are still sloshing around in tales of the Titanic. When we are not watching Rose and Jack call out one another’s names in James Cameron’s film or following the fortunes of Downton Abbey – its original heir apparently went down with the ship – we can immerse ourselves in one of a zillion books devoted to the Titanic’s every aspect, from her bulkhead design to her murals, staircases, fireplaces, crockery, crew and chimney stacks. We cannot, it seems, stop talking about the Titanic.
Even so, it still came as a body blow to discover that I was not the only person who had the idea of greeting the centenary in 2012 with a new book on the subject. In fact, I couldn’t throw a stone without hitting someone else who was writing about the Titanic. Two of my good friends were also writing about it; I turned up at the London Library to find that the ‘Shipwreck’ section had become a bare shelf. Even the most obscure Titanic books in the British Library had been lent out to other readers.
Writers are not generous or rational people: we like sharing our subjects as much as we like sharing our spouses, and the Titanic, as any enthusiast will tell you, is a spouse. Robert Ballard, the marine geologist who found the wreck in 1985, described every writer’s relationship with the liner when he said: ‘Before you realise it, you’re married to her. And let me tell you something: There is no divorcing the Titanic. Ever.’ What Ballard did not say is that, despite her famed maidenhood, the Titanic is incapable of fidelity, which makes her a tricky bride for those with a possessive streak (ie, writers). The only way of keeping her was to go for an open marriage.
So a more appropriate title for my book, How to Survive the Titanic, would have been How to Survive Writing About the Titanic at the Same Time as Hundreds of Other People. Metaphors of hubris, speed, icebergs and sinking inevitably came to mind, but just as those on board found themselves mixing in high society, I am now rubbing shoulders with top-drawer company: Titanic Style by Grace Evans; The Titanic and the Indifferent Stranger by Paul Lee; Shadow of the Titanic by Andrew Wilson; Titanic on Trial by Nic Compton; and Titanic: The Last Night of a Small Town by John Welshman, are all books to look out for. But the one that will stay afloat is Richard Davenport-Hines’s masterly Titanic Lives: Migrants and Millionaires, Conmen and Crew.
Spouses aside, there are also books by the relatives, including: And The Band Played On by Christopher Ward, grandson of Jock Hume, a violinist with the band; Starboard at Midnight by Helen Behr Sanford, granddaughter of two courting Titanic passengers, Helen Newsom and Karl Behr; and Good As Gold by Louise Patten, whose grandfather, Second Officer Charles Lightoller, was the Titanic’s whipping boy. I won’t list every new book because I don’t want this pulpit to turn into a list. But having said that, anything to do with the Titanic turns into a list.
It is as a list that the voyage began and ended: the first-class passenger list provided the most popular reading on board, after which the list of survivors became the most widely read document in the world. Columns of the percentages of deaths in first, second, and third class have been analysed for a century. The story of the Titanic could be told without a narrator, even without grammar. It could be written vertically, figures replacing words, and lose nothing of its suspense:
14 April 1912 11.40pm 46,000 tons 882.75 feet long 22 knots 300 foot gash 20 lifeboats 1,178 lifeboat capacity 2,228 people on board 705 survivors Not since the catalogue of ships that composed the Achaean army in Homer’s Iliad has there been such a dramatic list. The tale of the Titanic is always breaking out of narrative and into sheer enumeration. Who needs sentences when the roll-call of kitchen staff included butchers, bakers, night bakers, Vienna bakers, the passenger cook, grill cook, fish cook, sauce cook, soup cook, larder cook, roast cook, Hebrew cook, pastry cook, vegetable cook, entrée cook, assistant confectioner, coffee maker, plate warmer, kitchen porter, carver, wine butler, scullery men, pantry steward, plate steward, dining saloon steward, verandah café steward, and ship’s buglar?
Strange how a story needing so few sentences has been retold so many times. Were we to list the Titanic's ironies, that would come at the top. q d e c 2 0 1 1 / j a n 2 0 1 2 | Literary Review 1