Don’t expect a traditional take on the Titanic story from multi-media spectacular Treasured, its composer Ailís Ní Ríain tells Laura Davis
WHEN awardwinning Irish composer Ailis Ni Riain was invited to help create Treasured, a new theatre piece about the Titanic tragedy she very nearly refused.
My instinct was absolutely not, she says.
I have no interest whatsoever to add to all that maukish rubbish thats out there about the Titanic. What could I possibly say coming from an avant garde background?
The answer revealed itself during her research, which threw up a vast number of myths surrounding the worlds most famous shipping disaster that are commonly held to be true.
This idea of myth-making is one of the themes of Treasured, a site-specific, multimedia spectacular being performed in Liverpool Cathedral in October.
Liverpool-based producer and director Jen Heyes (Wall Talks, Tales from Charles Dickens) came up with the idea for the show, which Ni Riain is both writing and composing.
Trained in classical music, she has worked on a wide range of projects including In Sleep (2010), a commission for Liverpool Philharmonics contemporary music group Ensemble 10:10, and the play Desolate Heaven, which was performed in the Liverpool Everyman & Playhouses festival of new writing Everyword last November.
Theres no sentimentality in Treasured whatsoever, she says.
In fact I'm working against that. I think audiences can put that together themselves if things are presented in an intelligent, measured way.
The things that interest me are not the big epic Titanic story but the little individual stories and quirky unbelievable facts like how the lookout (Liverpool-born Fred Fleet) didnt have binoculars. And then theres the survivor guilt, experienced by a large number of people, particularly men because there was a women and children first ruling on the seas. There was quite a high suicide rate from survivors.
She is also amazed by reactions to Titanic's wreck, discovered in 1985, 73 years after it struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage.
Everything that could be extracted from the wreck and sold and publicised has been, so now the biggest collection of artefacts from the Titanic are in Las Vegas of all places, in the Luxor Hotel, she says. It kind of leaves you speechless.
Ni Ri ain dislikes the way theatre and television traditionally employs music to manipulate viewers emotions. Her score will have no emotive caressing of the audience into the sadness of the situation but will take risks.
And, with Liverpool Cathedral as the venue, it wont just be the audience that is challenged.
The acoustic in there is the longest Ive ever heard never mind actually had to work with, exclaims the composer, who concidentally lived for some time as a child in Cobh, formerly Queenstown, County Cork, which is well known for being the Titanics final port of call.
If you clap your hands you can still hear the sound five seconds later. So what do I go and do? I decide I want a trumpet (played by the Liverpool Philharmonics Brendan Ball) to be the main instrument, which carries even further because its so piercing.
Im hoping the audience dont come expecting grand massed choirs and orchestras and brass bands. I've gone to the absolute opposite extreme one musician.
There will also be pre-recorded music performed by a quintet of RLPO brass musicians.
Treasured will take the form of promenade theatre leading into the Cathedral Well for the main part of the experience. The cast includes Liverpool-based actors Laura Campbell (The Quiet Little Englishman, Bad Girls), Brian Dodd (Blood Wedding, Wall Talks, MC for the Capital of Culture opening ceremony), Nicola Bentley (Blackberry Trout Face) and Nick Birkinshaw (Wall Talks, SWALK).
TREASURED is at Liverpool Cathedral from October 1-6.