THE PERSONS OF THE PLAY

LORD WILLIAM JAMES PIRRIE – the chairman of the Harland & Wolff Shipyard (60 years old, white-haired gentlemen, with a low voice and pleasant manners)

JOSEPH BRUCE ISMAY – the chairman of the shipping company White Star Line (a tall man, with brown hair and moustache. Wears an expensive and elegant grey suit on. Looks very reserved and imperious)

FRANCISCARRUTHERS – a surveyor from the Board of Trade (50-year-old man, with attentive and fast eyesight, dressed very tidy).

ALEXANDER CARLISLE – shipyard’s chief draughtsman (tall, big, grey-haired man, with tired eyesight and a thoughtful face)

EDWARD J. SMITH – captain of Olympic, the best White Star Line captain (63-years-old man, tall, slender and handsome, with snow-white hair and beard. Dressed a British Fleet Captain uniform)

THE SCENE

Conference room at the Harland & Wolff Shipyard

THE TIME

September 1911

THE PLACE

Belfast, Ireland

ACT 1

Conference room is a large, bright, and luxuriously furnished office with walls covered with beautiful wooden panels. In the center of the room, there is a long heavy table surrounded by comfortable chairs. At the far end of the room, a wooden stand with the model of the beautiful ship, about 2 meters long, on it is posted. Nearby, on the wall, a large board with a few close-up photos is placed. The photos depict the ship – an exact copy of the one, represented on the stand – with a huge hole in the board. The long table is covered with numerous drafts, documents and maps.

ISMAY (sitting at the head of the table) So, gentlemen, today we have all gathered due to a very unpleasant and alarming reason. As you know, yesterday Olympic, the lead ship of the White Star Line’s trio of Olympic-class liners collided with a British warship, Hawke. There’s no need to say that this accident inflicts a huge blow to our reputation and threatens the future of our next child – Titanic.

CARRUTHERS (looking through some documents) Unfortunately, Mr. Ismay is quite right. The Board of Trade is very concerned about the situation with Olympic and expresses strong doubts regarding the maneuvering ability of such big ships as Olympic, Titanic and Gigantic.

SMITH Mr. Carruthers, during the last two years you have inspected Titanic two thousand times, as far as I know. This is the most perfect ship of all times and its maneuvering ability is perfect as well. The cause of collision was the so-called hydraulic gravity, when the ship with a less weight is sticking to the one with a larger weight. (Slowly, emphasizing almost each word) Hawke passed too close to Olympic and lost control – that’s all.

LORD PIRRIE (coming to the photos on the wall holding a pointer is his hand) From these pictures it’s clear which ship has suffered more severely. Hawke almost capsized, while Olympic, despite two serious holes (pointing on photos) below and above the waterline, was able to return to Southampton under its own power, and no-one was injured or killed. No other ship could stand such terrible collision and stay the course. (Gesturing, talking enthusiastically) Just imagine, what would happen in this situation to any other ship, even the biggest one, for example, Mauritania. If the water rushed in, then all crewmembers would rush frantically trying to batten down the hatches between compartments. However, this endeavor would be in vain. Our three ships are built on quite different principle. (Addressing Carlisle) Mr. Carlisle, would you explain in details.

CARLISLE(wearing glasses) Well, gentlemen, here in Harland &Wolff we made automatic watertight compartments (shows the compartments on a long draft). The simple switch click is enough to isolate the ship, thus ensuring its safety. Our German colleagues have already tested this principle and it’s absolutely reliable. As soon as the water is detected on a ship, the switch is automatically activated and all the compartments are battened down. 

CARRUTHERS Is this what makes the ship unsinkable?

SMITH I navigate ships for about forty years and I can’t imagine that something fatal can happen to Titanic or any of these three ships. Modern shipbuilding has solved this problem.

ISMAY Look, if in the world there’s a safer ship, we didn’t hear about it(smiles victoriously). As far as I can see, it’s virtually unsinkable. Titanic is absolutely safe, and the fact that Olympic has survived such a terrible collision only strengthens our confidence. A real problem is that now Olympic needs a serious repair and you (emphasizing), Lord Pirrie, will have to take care about this. The ship is already on its way to Belfast.

(Lord Pirrie stands up and nervously walks about the room)

ISMAY What’s the problem, I wonder?

LORD PIRRIE (stops at a big window and watches at the huge shipbuilding area behind it) To repair Olympic, we’ll have to place it into the dry dock. This strongly threatens the schedule of Titanic’s commissioning.

ISMAY(slightly annoyed) Lord Pirrie, every day of Olympic’s down time costs us 200,000 pounds. I don’t think that Mr. Morgan will like this. Taking into account the long and mutually beneficial partnership of White Star Line and your shipyard, I ask you to take all measures to commission Olympic as soon as possible…

LORD PIRRIE (gives a sigh) I see…

ISMAY (raises his pointer finder)And Titanic as well.

LORD PIRRIE (comes to the table, sits down and thinks for a while) I’ll have to involve more workers…

ISMAY (In persuasive tone)As many as you need. White Star Line will compensate all expenses.

LORD PIRRIE (Pondering in loud, concentrating)The problem is that all highly qualified workers in Belfast are already involved into works on Titanic. To repair Olympic in no time I’ll have to move the best workers from Titanic to Olympic and employ beginners for Titanic…

CARRUTHERS (cautiously) Hopefully, this will not affect the quality of works. Don’t forget that you’re creating the best ship ever built.

ISMAY Mr. Carruthers, in the course all the future inspections of Titanic, you’ll be able to make sure about that.This will be a ship of a dream. (Inspiringly, in elevated tone, confidently, trying to convince the auditory, gesturing) The biggest, the most luxurious, and the most secure! Any part of it up to the smallest detail will meet the highest quality standards.

CARRUTHERS (takes a paper from the table and looks through it)Speaking about safety, in the last report to the Board of Trade you’ve mentioned … 20 lifeboats instead of 40 ones, stated in the previous report…

CARLISLE(starts, leans over the table, pulls the report out of Carruther’s hands and reads) 20 lifeboats… Who has approved this? (turns his eyes from one face to another).

LORD PIRRIE (nervously betters his tie. He is very confused) I have…

CARLISLEYou? But it’s me a chief designer, not you, Lord Pirrie!

ISMAY (leans back in the chair and looks at Carlisle a little lordly) Mr. Carlisle, it was the mutual decision of White Star Line and Harland & Wolff.

LORD PIRRIE The instructions clearly state that for a ship with the tonnage of 10,000 tons and more 16 lifeboats are enough.

CARLISLE(stripping the glasses) I agree, William, but our ships exceed this tonnage more than five times. How shall we be able to place more than three thousand people into 16 boats?! (Carlisle rushes over the table and approaches Lord Pirrie)

LORD PIRRIE (Baffled, trying to overcome the confusion)But I personally offered additional four life rafts… We provide even more than stipulated by standards.

CARLISLE(raises his hands in despair) Theses standards are outdated, William!

ISMAY (stands up and approaches the arguing people) However, this is only a theoretical risk, Mr. Carlisle. These ships’ve been designed (by you, let me remind) so they are unsinkable.

(Carlisle rushes to Ismay)

CARLISLE(Arguing)Don’t you understand that man is prone to error, and the first rule of safety is to assume the impossible!

(Ismay stays silent for a while. Then comes to Carlisle very closely and stares at him. Carlisle makes a step back. Ismay presses and asks in a very low voice which sounds threateningly)

ISMAY Do you think, Mr. Carlisle, our passengers will be happy about this?

(Carlisle’s face becomes pale)

CARLISLE What?!

ISMAY What will they think, when see that promenade deck is chock up with lifeboats?

(Carlisle seems not to believe his ears)

CARLISLE Do you think that the view of lifeboats may alarm the passengers?!

ISMAY Yes, if we’ll have as many boats as you demand.

(Ismay turns away showing that the discussion is over. Lord Pirrie comes to Carlisle and puts his hand on Carlisle shoulder)

LORD PIRRIE Alexander (his voice sounds convincingly), our task is to make this voyage unforgettable for the passengers but not to scare them or to discourage to come on board once more.

(Carlisle throws off Lord Pirrie’s hand)

CARLISLE Oh, so this is one of your economic considerations! (Carlisle’s voice sounds scornfully)

LORD PIRRIE (patiently)These ships must bring profit, Alexander. They should be profitable to be built.

CARLISLE (bitterly) Of course, saving on several lifeboats will bring you such a desirable addition to the profit!

ISMAY (turns the them sharply) What a nonsense!

(Carlisle turns around and leaves the room)

LORD PIRRIE Alexander!

ISMAY (angrily) Carlisle, come back!

(Attendees exchange the confused glances)

END OF ACT 1

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