The Titanic Orchestra

The four filthy tramps in The Titanic Orchestra are waiting in vain for a train, not Godot, in a play by Bulgarian playwright Hristo Boytchev, who tries and fails to emulate Samuel Beckett’s classic piece of absurdist dystopia. Even the presence of impish Scottish film and TV star John Hannah, playing a man who taunts the tramps by claiming to be Harry Houdini, can’t keep this lugubrious one-act from going off the rails.

Though it was billed as a “madcap comedy,” there was exactly one burst of laughter in this performance.

Translated by Steve King, The Titanic Orchestra unfolds on a stage at the Pleasance Courtyard covered in garbage. The tramps, all drunkards, stumble around the platform when trains approach (but never stop), hoping to catch cast-off bottles of booze or bits of food. Played with leaden energy by Stuart Crowther, Heidi Nieimi (from Finland), Jonathan Rhodes and Ivan Barnev (from Bulgaria), they are a scabby quartet, dressed in rags and greasy boiler suits, mangy-haired and sooty-faced. Like Beckett’s hobos, who believe the mythical Godot will solve their problems, Boytchev’s characters dream of one day boarding a train and going … somewhere.

When Houdini suddenly rises from a plywood box dressed in top hat and tails, the tramps are in awe. But he’s just another drunk, bargaining sips of hooch by performing simple sleights of hand. He does make four real train tickets appear, giving the lost souls glimmers of hope of escaping their trash heap. But the mysterious visitor tells them they’re doomed. “There’s nowhere to get out to,” says Houdini. “This whole world’s the Titanic and we are all along for the ride.”

If talk like that gives you a sinking feeling, wait for the long stretches of pretentious prattle about “tintinnabulations” and how reality is all illusion. When one of the tramps asks, “Is the intent to punish us one by one?,” it’s a question the audience could pose to the playwright. It may start like Godot, but this play feels like No Exit.

Though it was billed as a “madcap comedy,” there was exactly one burst of laughter (at a bit of physical shtick by Barnev) in this performance. It came at the 69th minute of a 70-minute train wreck.

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Performances

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The Blurb

John Hannah (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Sliding Doors, The Mummy) stars in this madcap comedy of illusion. Four tramps huddle together at an abandoned railway station, full of vodka-fuelled dreams of escaping on one of the passing trains. But the trains never stop. Until one day, a dishevelled stranger is thrown into their midst. He claims to be the great Houdini, and promises that together they will perform the most astonishing vanishing act the world has ever seen. A UK premiere by Hristo Boytchev (British Council International Playwriting Award) in a new translation by Steve King.

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