Once… more… we open the door. To some locally produced Shanghai theater! Sailing the seas of cheese on the Huangpu. All aboard!
Now sailing (and… tragically… romantically… sinking) on the high seas of the Huangpu is Ship of Dreams - The Titanic Experience
, a new theater production from Shanghai’s own DreamWeaver Productions. The mise en scene
: A three-story Huangpu ferry ship, outfitted inside and out to look like the unsinkable, evidently-really-quite-sinkable R.M.S. Titanic herself. As a piece of promenade theater, the action unfolds in multiple focuses in multiple areas, and simultaneously, with a roving audience traveling around the set according to their own design, observing and, at times, taking part in the different scenes. In a mostly dialogue-free performance, the cast wordlessly mimes out moments of love, loss, greed, camaraderie, tragedy, and death in diverging and interwoven scenarios and narratives that culminate into…
Spoiler ALERT: The Titanic sinks at the end.
The major content grist for Ship of Dreams - The Titanic Experience
is James Cameron’s 1997 Oscar Awards and box office juggernaut Titanic
, and the central story line is indeed the love story of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack and Kate Winslet’s Rose, almost thwarted by Billy Zane — damn you, Billy Zane!
— and ultimately undone by drifting plywood. Damn you, drifting plywood!
Other characters from the movie pop up, as do historical figures present on the doomed voyage. John Jacob Aster IV is in it — incidentally his namesake building, the Waldorf Astoria
, is view-able from the ship’s deck — as is (I think) “the unsinkable” Molly Brown, and, of course, the Captain.
The band is there as well. That heroic band…
This is all on a ferry on the Huangpu. It’s pretty bonkers. Not even done just describing it.
A further element to the show is the available ticketing, which is separated into First Class passengers and Third Class passengers. First Class passengers dine on a full 7-course dinner and receive a tour of the ship with the Captain. They also get free-flow from the cocktail bars because c’mon son — this is Shanghai. Third Class passengers, admitted to the show after the tour, get a few free drinks and an envelope of Titanic bucks to gamble and barter with to work their way up. (You basically use the money to bribe your way into rooms to see different scenes.)
It’s pretty involved.
The creative inspiration for the production is London-based theater company’s Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More
a massive, enthralling, and jaw-dropping piece of promenade theater inspired by Shakespeare’s Macbeth
that’s taken Shanghai by the throat for the last year or so. DreamWeaver Productions explicitly cites
their own experience of Sleep No More
as their creative impulse behind making this show. In doing so, they’re inviting comparisons between the two, which opens them to criticism in a few regards.
The Titanic Experience
is a much, much smaller production with a much smaller budget. Set design isn’t nearly as elaborate and intricate as Sleep No More
. If you go expecting four floors of video-game inspired terror you will be disappointed. They aren’t offering a full-on “insanely surreal” environment. The sets reference the historical ship in a prosaic, charming, DIY kind of way. The sets reference the movie.
Likewise, Sleep No More
offers a cast of professional, international dancers, mime artists, and actors who have been honing their performances for years into these visceral scenarios that play out right in the faces of a silent, masked, voyeuristic audience. Despite all the death going around, The Titanic Experience
is a much, much lighter touch, with guests even encouraged to dress up in period clothes. It's more like a party, hanging out with friends at the cocktail bar. And you’re never quite taken out of the situation you came in on: It’s a boat on the Huangpu and people are acting out scenes from the movie Titanic
It IS that.
But... but, I know
. Sounds fantastic, right?
So yeah, that actually comes back around to being the main enjoyment of the show. With the Jack-Rose-Billy Zane triptych serving as the centerpiece to the show, it ends up being a pretty delightfully campy. Think of the iconic scenes from the movie — are you thinking of them? — yes, they are included in the show. My heart will go on for it.
So yeah, it’s campy. And ambitious. And wonderful if you're in the right mind for it. And... it's a clever idea. If you’re a fan of the movie you should check it out.
They also have two bars on the ship. Incidentally.
Recommended cocktail: “The Iceberg”.
'Ship of Dreams - The Titanic Experience' is on until November 25. Tickets available here.