There are a couple of spine-tingling moments in Treasured. Unfortunately, neither of them have anything to do with the script. Jen Heyes’ multimedia production, running at the Anglican Cathedral is a large-scale piece using projections, aerial acrobatics, live music and walk-through set-pieces. But its script – the theatrical rivets that should stitch Treasured together – was weak, and the night was – if you’ll excuse us – a little at sea.
Where the narrative should have held fast and propelled us forward it was, instead, clinker built. A series of slightly overlapping tales. An anecdote here. A grim history lesson there. An annoyingly intrusive atonal trumpet blast somewhere off in the wings.
Like lifelines thrown hopefully out at sea, Heyes nudges the narrative along by throwing in pub-quiz facts of how one survivor died ‘on the same day that JFK was shot’ – for no other reason, one can imagine, than the fact that she must have found it mildly interesting whilst doing her research.
Sadly, what Treasured didn’t provide was the intimacy we’d hoped for – and that Heyes had promised (“when someone passes away, they leave behind memories and artefacts that we treasure, which serve as our connection between the past and the present and so the name Treasured and the broader concept for the event was born,” Heyes explained in our preview).
Intimate treasured artefacts were in short supply – save for ghostly images of submerged scissors and hairbrushes at the end of the performance. Instead, Treasured‘s artefacts were anecdotes (of a cat taking itself and its kittens off the ship before it sailed, of a Mexican diplomat giving up his lifeboat space for a distraught woman, or of Randolph Hearst’s crushing of Ismay, the vain-glorious White Star chief) – tales recounted by the cast to each other, to us, to anyone who’s listening: the piece slipping between set-pieces between the characters and history lessons handed out to the audience like depth charges, shattering the tension.
More show, less tell might have saved this story.
We learned of White Star’s inhumanity (no lifeboats for steerage – a story we already know), and of the captain’s dogged determination not to slow down, despite warnings of ice (again, a tale we’ve heard many times before).
The strong ensemble manfully shored up procedings (not an easy task, when you’ve given lines like ‘Don’t you know Liverpool is the largest transatlantic port in Europe?’).
With little fresh insight, in the end it’s left to the staggeringly impressive projection of the ill fated ship to silently steal the show, as it scythes through the chilly Irish Sea, en route to Southampton – via the nave of the cathedral. An effect more impressive than any multi-million dollar 3D film.
Similarly staggering is the lone aerialist, dancing and drowning in the icy north Atlantic – her skirts billowing beautifully, balletically, against the rippling blue backcloth.
Scenes like these will stay in the memory, and sail close to the human heart of this terrible tale. It’s just a shame that, in trying to match the production’s terrific illumination, the script veered too far away from introspection.
Pic: Robin Kay