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Titanic: Owen McCafferty’s Play and Artistic Inspiration

The fate of Titanic has served as tragic inspiration for multiple artists in different mediums, from paintings to literature. While a lot of attention is focused on the sinking itself and the lost wealth of the ship, some individuals have chosen to take a more humanistic approach to the matter, focusing on the lives lost and the extreme class disparity present on the ship and in the statistics of those who survived. Others have blended the humanistic and the sensational while tempering both with levelheaded representations of the facts. One such individual is Owen McCafferty. 

Owen McCafferty is a playwright from Northern Ireland. He is the only playwright to have won the Meyer-Whitworth Award, the John Whiting Award, and the Evening Standard’s Charles Wintour Award all for the same play in the same year. McCafferty is known for the fact that the majority of his plays take place in Belfast and are written in the local vernacular of the area. However, for his play Titanic (Scenes from the British Wreck Commissioner’s Inquiry, 1912), he departs from that tradition.

To begin writing his play, McCafferty first researched Titanic and explored historical documents. He sifted through the testimonies from the investigations into the crash. He used dialogue word-for-word from the accounts presented at the inquiry. Such an endeavor entailed picking which individuals to represent in his play from the 97 witnesses and which moments to highlight from the extensive records. In reality, the commissioner was given 26 questions to ask each witness. These questions were complemented by cross-examination so that over 25,000 questions were ultimately documented in official records. McCafferty had to sift through these written interactions and determine which he wanted to use in his work. As a lot of media attention at the time was given to the testimony of the Duff Gordons and Joseph Bruce Ismay, he knew immediately that those were figures he had to include, especially as the public continues to hold interest in their actions today. 

The British inquiry ran from May 2 to July 3, 1912 in Scottish Hall of Buckingham Gate at Westminster (though the last few days, the inquiry took place elsewhere as the hall, notorious for its poor acoustics, was being used for exams). The conclusion was published on July 30, 1912. McCafferty’s play about it premiered at the Metropolitan Arts Centre (MAC) in Belfast a century later, on April 22nd of 2012.

Interested in seeing Court’s artistic rendition of McCafferty’s play? Find more information here!

Posted on June 3, 2021 in Productions