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TITANIC – The Queen of the Ocean

This was, in effect, three events in one, and none of them were aligned with another. In no particular order, The Queen of the Ocean comprised a dining experience, some scenes from live actors and a pianist, and an extensive slideshow. It started rather promisingly, with ‘guests’, as we were called, rather than customers or patrons, lining up to enter the Lancaster Ballroom at the Savoy Hotel, taking photographs in front of a show-themed backdrop. It was, perhaps, always something of a stretch to call it a ‘totally immersive’ experience – they were never going to be so crass as hand out lifejackets and throw buckets of water at us.

The Queen of the OceanNeither cast list nor menu were available to guests – unless one happened to know what was served on board the Titanic to first-class passengers, or took out one’s smartphone to look it up (hardly entering into the spirit of things, as this was supposed to be a recreation of a posh dinner in 1912), one simply didn’t know what was going to land on one’s table, or indeed when. The five courses served up were, if I recall correctly: miscellaneous hors d’oeuvres, which guests had to ask what each of them were (or otherwise take one without knowing), followed by salmon and cucumbers, then chicken breast with potatoes and vegetables, a Waldorf pudding and a cheeseboard. There were vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options, but given the lack of menus, I cannot comment on what these were.

It wasn’t long before complaints from guests started to build up. Some of the stage lighting was situated at the side of the ballroom, and there was at least one table significantly affected by this, with those lights shining directly at them. From my vantage point, it was difficult to hear what on earth the cast were saying. It was rather like trying to decipher the lyrics to ‘Rule, Britannia!’ whilst watching The Last Night of the Proms – as though it were deliberately becoming less and less distinct as it went on until such time as it was best just to give up trying. I managed to work out there was someone on staff who was a mere sixteen years old, and the ship’s captain was inevitably distressed at the consequences of his vessel striking an iceberg. A pity, then, that the production’s budget stretched to hiring the largest banqueting room at the Savoy Hotel, but not to a sufficient number of speakers to allow everyone to hear proceedings.

The Queen of the OceanIn any event, there’s something very disjointed about Captain Smith declaring “every man for himself” whilst guests simply continued with their dinners. There was very little in the way of audience participation beyond eating and drinking – copies of Hymns for Today’s Church (first published – wait for it – in 1987) were available to allow the audience (sorry, guests) to sing one hymn as part of a Sunday worship service: ‘Eternal Father, Strong to Save’. The waiters and waitresses worked hard throughout the evening, although some of them could have been more sensitive to what was happening, production-wise, at any given moment – it’s hard to keep a straight face when a champagne bottle is popped open a few feet away, whilst on stage, the ‘crew’ are preparing to launch lifeboats. Earlier, while the captain was waxing lyrical about how the Titanic offers the very best in world cuisine, I was slapping butter on bread. I suppose I really did feel at home at that moment.

Then there were what I can only describe as video projections that might as well have been a PowerPoint presentation. Key moments in the hours and minutes prior to the sinking were detailed with printed text appearing on large screens, with no forewarning such as a chime or bell sound – if you were pouring yourself a drink when something flashed up, you’d have missed an update. Oh, and if the timings of events on screen were supposed to be taken at face value, we were, in a sense, served dessert at 1:20am.

The text and the accompanying videos were more often than not unconnected – for instance, details of a lifeboat being lowered weren’t accompanied by a photo, image or video of a lifeboat being lowered. Interestingly, while the likes of Nando’s and Wetherspoons routinely check with guests, however casually, that everything is okay with their food, this wasn’t the case here. Just as well, then, that the company on my table was so marvellous. Perhaps there was too much of a mismatch between people wanting to have a nice dinner and the solemnity of the event being commemorated – having previously asked guests to stand to sing a hymn, regardless of people’s religious beliefs (if any), it was surprising not to be invited to stand for a moment of respectful silence. Instead, there was a considerable amount of ‘white noise’ throughout the evening, which, I am reliably informed, forced at least one guest to abandon ship, as it were, because of their tinnitus. At least I can say I survived The Queen of the Ocean.

By Chris Omaweng

Members of the audience are transported back to the night of April 14th 1912 with new writing based on true documented events of the tragic evening. An original music score and soundtrack is also included in the experience using songs from the original White Star Line Hymn book.

Our aim is to create a historically authentic experience to be remembered. Inside the venue, we have a number of ‘installations’ including a cold water tank with water chilled to the same temperature as the sea on April 14th, 1912, and a Morse Code machine with instructions on how to send an SOS message. The first 45 minutes of the show is designed to allow the guests to experience these interactively before the ship sets sail and your starter is served at 7:45 pm. From here and between courses, actors perform as part of the immersive theatre experience with characters representing the crew from different classes and how their evening unfolds in comparison to the enjoyment being had by the first-class passengers. The night is led by none other than Captain Edward Smith.


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