Titanic: The Last Hero and The Last Coward
Searchlight Theatre Company
It’s been said that the last hero on the Titanic was Reverend John Harper, a Glaswegian Baptist pastor, who, it is widely reported, helped others onto lifeboats, gave up his own lifejacket and then preached and prayed till his final breath, bringing comfort to all around. It’s equally true that the label of ‘coward’ has resoundingly been applied to Joseph Ismay, Chairman of the White Star Line, a man who still managed to find a seat on a lifeboat while so many others perished around him.
Did these men ever meet? If so, would they have seen eye to eye, and do the labels that history has afforded them apply? Those are some of the questions that Searchlight Theatre Company approaches with their newest piece of Fringe theatre. The ever dependable duo of David Robinson and Michael Taylorson star as Ismay and Harper respectively during flashback scenes aboard the Titanic.
One interesting choice is to have the narrative leap around in time, framing the story with the Senate Committee hearing, where Ismay is being held accountable for the disaster and relates his experiences leading up to and during the catastrophe. It’s here that Taylorson gets to exercise a transatlantic accent, as a US Senator, in scenes that are interesting but do somewhat feel like they’re getting in the way of the actual story. This is in part because of the acoustics of the venue proving decidedly awkward, despite the use of microphones, and for whatever reason, Taylorson’s voice continually got lost during these scenes, his words vanishing in the air like half-hearted vespers.
The meat of the play, however, is the relationship between the businessman and the pastor, and these scenes are genuinely fun. It’s a bold and indeed a kind choice to humanise Ismay. Instead of taking the easy option of casting him as a pantomimic villain, he rather is simply a man who begrudgingly begins to enjoy the company of a friend, someone who wants nothing from him other than a little of his time and an occasional Bible reading.
There’s a gentleness to this play that is a swift and solid antidote to the tale of human horror that it is set against. A heartfelt and moving tribute to the heroism of the common man, and that the heart of even the richest men can be opened and brought into the light.
Reviewer: Graeme Strachan