What fascinates us so much about Titanic? Actors from the musical go into it ahead of Dublin shows

By Katy Thornton

July 24, 2023 at 5:25pm

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Titanic the Musical is coming to the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre on the 1st until the 5th August, and with it, the fascination with the tragic shipwreck reignites once more.

We spoke to two members of the upcoming cast, Bree Smith, who plays Second Class Passenger Alice Beane, who has a major taste for luxury, and Lucie Mae Sumner, who plays Kate McGowan, an Irish Third Class Passenger who is escaping to America for a better life.

We discuss the research they did into their characters, what they hope people will take away from the story, as well as what continues to fascinate us about the tragedy that is Titanic. Bree lets us in on some of the facts she discovered when researching the character, and Lucie Mae reveals which Irish podcast helped her to craft her Irish accent.

These interviews were conducted ahead of the Oceangate tragedy in June.

Interview with Bree Smith who played Alice Beane

The character you play in the musical, Alice, is such a positive character, and a genuine joy to watch. Is it difficult to play a character like that when you're so aware of the tragic turn the story is going to take? 

Yeah, it takes a lot of energy to play Alice, she's so energetic and happy most of the time. She obviously does have her tiffs with Edgar, her husband, but I think the character brings light and comedy to the dramatic themes of the show. It's not difficult because I obviously know what's going to happen and so do the audience so Alice gives a light relief to the inevitable.

Does performing in a musical that's based on true events differ from a musical based on fiction? 

The audiences are different. There are so many silent bits or parts where the audience gasp out loud. It hits home differently when you can research your character, as I discovered when I went to the museum in Belfast and saw my character on the survivor list.

I obviously did a lot of research before the show, but it's crazy to think that two generations back, not even, people's families were on that list. People coming to watch the show, especially in Southhampton and Belfast, could feasibly have had great aunties or grandads board the Titanic, some who survived and some who didn't.

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How did you like Belfast and the Titanic museum? Did you think it represented the events well? 

I did. I think a lot of people come to the musical thinking it's the Jack and Rose story, and then they're shocked, sometimes in a good way and sometimes not. But the museum is spectacular, the bit that got me the most was the actual life jacket, the violin, and the deck chair from the actual Titanic that had been recovered.

The manuscripts, the dining menus, even seeing how small the bunk beds were for Second and Third Class, looking at the First Class dining salons, and how they were set out. Even seeing a 3D version of how the ship sank; it made everything a little more real. The imagery in my head of how it played out was so different afterwards to how it had been weeks before.

How did you prepare for the role? Did you find when preparing that you equally focused on Alice as a character and her hopes and dreams, as well as looking into the time period and the class differences? 

Our director is a Titanic fanatic and before each scene he would sit us down, talk us through it, we'd play the scene, and then we could discuss it after, ask questions, and make it our own after that. We wanted to stay as true to the characters as we could but as they weren't photographed, we didn't know them, there's only so much of that we could do.

I did a lot of research; Google is a wonderful thing. Going to the museum and actually seeing it and reading things you don't see on the internet helped build my character and understand the class systems.

What is it about Titanic and about the whole story that captivates us? 

It was made known to be an unsinkable ship, it was one of a kind size wise, and there were so many things that could have prevented it happening. That's the crazy thing; of course hindsight is a beautiful thing. If the radio people had just been awake they could have rushed to help.

If they had ran the iceberg head on, it may not have sunk. If they had the binoculars up in the watch area, if they hadn't gone so fast, there were so many factors that could've avoided it. I think what captivates me and the audience is the fact that it could've been prevented but it wasn't and it happened.

Interview with Lucie Mae Sumner who plays Kate McGrath

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I found Kate's story the most poignant as an Irish woman, and I know you played her back in 2019 as well, what is it about the character that draws you to her so much? 

She's quite an unusual woman for her time, she was a pioneering woman in real life, she led thirteen people from her town onto the ship; she was a leader and people wanted to follow her and they wanted to make their lives better because of her. I try to look at the hope over the tragedy although of course it was tragic what happened to those 14 people, all from Ireland, County Mayo. It's the fact that these people had all these wild dreams and because travel was so different back then they knew they may never see their families again if they left. And of course they didn't anyway.

Your Irish accent was quite brilliant; there's Hollywood actors who completely butcher it or make it too brogue-y. I actually didn't realise you weren't Irish which is a huge kudos to your talent, how did you come to craft the accent? Where did the inspiration form? 

I have a lot of Irish friends and I also listen to that podcast My Therapist Ghosted Me (laughs) which I love, I found it quite helpful even though their accents are obviously quite different. Listening to and hearing real Irish people helps a lot and my Irish friends have never told me that my accent is awful, they're quite complimentary, which is nice. It took me a long time to get it right, I'm Northern so there's some similar vowels so maybe there wasn't much of a jump or something. So yeah, basically my friends and My Therapist Ghosted Me (laughs).

Did you find yourself doing more research on Titanic and class differences, or did you focus more on Kate as a character? 

When I do a historical show, one of my favourite parts is research. I'm such a reader and a history nerd, and I've always been kind of obsessed with why people are so entranced by the story of the Titanic and I think it's because it was so hyped up, it was such a feat of human capabilities, and then it was nature in the end that took it away. There's constantly new information coming out about what happened, all these tiny incidents that led to such a tragedy.

What do you think it is about Titanic that has continued to capture our imaginations?

That for Third Class passengers this was likely going to be the only journey they made in their lives, and the tragic turn it took for those just looking to better their lives. There wasn't anyone on board who wasn't going somewhere to do something important - nowadays if someone is getting on a ship they're probably going on a holiday, but they were going to America permanently and that's what is so sad I think.

Does performing in a musical based on true events feel different to performing in one that is more fiction based? 

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I think that I always try to connect it to something real. It's not as enjoyable for an audience member to watch something that isn't authentic. Even when I played Roxy Hart, she is actually based on a real person and Chicago is based on a true story. Some of it is actually verbatim I discovered when I did some research into the show.

I always try to base the characters in something truthful, whether that's the surroundings or the time period, or how they might relate to other people, and why. In a way it doesn't actually feel that different in that respect. Even in Titanic, it met a tragic end and you're playing that out, there's a different sort of reverence to it and I try to be quite careful that I give it the respect it deserves.

What do you hope that audiences will take away from the show and Kate's story in particular? 

I would love people for people to walk away without the numbers in their head, without thinking of those people just as numbers. They'll have an idea of who those people were instead.

Is there a part of the musical that sticks with you?

Yes, and it's actually a part I'm not in. There's a scene called The Proposal where two of the cast are sending a message home and at that time there was such a huge significance and cost on sending a message home but essentially this character sends a marraige proposal by text, which is quite funny to think about. It's the most beautiful scene.

Titanic the Musical is coming to the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre this August and performing between the 1st and the 5th August. Tickets are available to purchase now on their website

Header image via Instagram / Titanic the Musical

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