Titanic: The Untold Story @ Segal Centre
Anthony Sherwood Productions takes a different perspective on a familiar story, if only so because of James Cameron. This is, of course, that of the Titanic. To mark the 100-year anniversary of the famous catastrophe, the company takes on the perspective of what happened on the cruise ship through the eyes of its only black passenger, a Paris-educated Haitian engineer named Joseph-Philippe Laroche (played by Conrad Caton). And yes, he really was the only black passenger. This part of the ship’s history has been immortalized in theatre before, but this play makes the situation even more unique by placing M. Laroche in conversation with none other than the former boxing heavyweight champion of the world, Jack Johnson (played by Sherwood). The two reminisce together on their respective relationships to the Titanic and the racial strife they both faced in various ways through their whole lives.
To me, the play flowed decently. There was a good mix between the main characters’ dialogue and the spotlight flashbacks to their past, though I found the text to be a little too repetitive at times…like, we get it, the Titanic was friggin magnificent. We’ve all seen the movie and read about it. The relationship between Joseph Laroche and Jack Johnson was clear and compelling – even though they were connected as men who experienced constant racial discrimination and searched for recognition and courage in themselves, they lived completely different lives. Being from vastly different places in society, they had very differing perspectives on life, and it provided for some good theatrical moments. The relationship’s development was a formidable battle waged on wit and brawn. Even though it meandered a fair shot away from the topic of the Titanic on more than one occasion, it still felt right in the context of what the play was getting at (however I’ll leave the interpretation of what that is to you, the viewer).
The supporting actors provided a palpable feel on where the Laroche and Johnson were coming from. As for the main actors, I think Anthony Sherwood’s experience showed over Conrad Canton’s. His movement and physicalization of Jack Johnson brought life to what we know of the boxer, and his character was very alive. I feel that Canton needed work on refining his character’s physical side. His gestures needed to be much more precise – as far as I could see, he showed anger and frustration in the same way as grief and sadness, and that detracted from the power and precision of his character’s struggle. That said, his vocal performance was quite solid, and there is no doubt that the audience could feel both characters’ emotions very clearly through their speech.
Alright, enough technical nitpicking from me. All in all the character plot fit nicely in the historical context of the Titanic plot, and definitely engaged the audience. Though it wasn’t perfect, it’s definitely great to see that this show is touring, and it’s worth seeing a side of the famous story that most people don’t really think about. I think a lot of audiences are going to enjoy this.