Time: 1 hr 25 mins.
Site specific productions quite often hit and miss affairs regardless of the site itself. Too big, the intimacy is lost; too small they become claustrophobic; too “revered” and proceedings become secondary. However with Treasured, a commemoration of the centenary of the sinking of Titanic, Director Jen Heyes could not have selected a finer venue nor delivered a fine piece of theatre.
Precluded by a short stroll through the dockyards of Belfast which is populated by actors and ensemble members we will meet later, the atmosphere is induced from the very moment the doors open and, in truth, never really leaves throughout.
There are three major reasons for this. Firstly, the astonishing video imagery that transforms the North Transept of this magnificent building into the shipyards of Harland & Wolff in Belfast, the luxurious decks of the ship itself and, also, the Atlantic Ocean from both above and below, adds such depth to the whole piece it becomes less of a theatrical event and more of an emotional journey.
Secondly, the stage – a long gangway bedecked with crates and gates, grills and ladders – that serves to bring the proceedings into the heart of the audience and so continues their involvement beautifully. In a previously warm auditorium, was it really coincidence that as the iceberg approached many of those assembled reached for their coats and cardigans, or was it subliminal suggestion wrought by direction? Who knows?
Finally, some exquisite performances from all involved not only added different dimensions to the “blame debate” which has raged for a century, but also provided a poignancy that, at times in such productions, can come across as trite and insincere. Not so here, as the tight script was executed with aplomb and deft skill. Standout performances, from a night when all desewrve mention, were provided by Christopher Hollinshead as Irish Shipbuilder Mattie – whose love of his craft, both literally and metaphorically, shines through the sheer enthusiasm of his powerful performance. This enthusiasm was matched by all, but Nicola Bentley playing Lucy – a ships maid who believes her life has been saved by Titanic – marginally edges the performance of the night position, as it is her simple trust in an elite destined to fail her that is quite possibly the most touching aspect of the entire work.
If there is a quibble, it lies in the fact occasionally the dialogue is lost through the echoing acoustics of this vast space, yet even with this said those same echoes provided and almost ghostly ambience to proceedings and added yet further resonance to what was being performed.
Safe to say then that although “site specific” may very often equal “trouble”, with Treasured, Jen Heyes has circumnavigated many of the obstacles in her way and delivers quite possibly one of the most memorable shows of the year.