Becoming Harold Bride

Faithful readers, it seems my audition-related fears were ungrounded, or at the very least, my great virtues of being young, male and alive won through for me. I will be joining the cast of Titanic in the role of Harold Bride, a young radioman. 22 years of age, he is greatly enthused by his career in telegraphy and takes his job very seriously. He has human warmth as well, and in the musical theatre one other fact is very important – he has a wonderful song to sing. Before I heard it, I would not have believed that there could be a wonderful song about the telegraph, but Maury Yeston managed it somehow.

No doubt I will also be, at some point ‘Third 2nd class passenger from the right’ as most of the cast is required to do double or triple duty to help create the impression of there being a whole ship full of people on the stage. Even if not physically required, many of us will be singing lustily in the wings between our own scenes, given that the music often takes it upon itself to divide into eight part harmony. Glorious!

Rehearsals begin on Monday, when everything will start to become clearer. However, there are various aspects of preparation I can begin at once. There is a great wealth of material about the RMS Titanic, its crew and its passengers. I have already begun exploring some web sites where research is available, including the Encyclopedia Titanica and the records of the Inquiries which were held after the disaster. Journal articles and books can also be delved into, and I suppose I might have to get around to watching James Cameron’s Titanic, which I have hitherto avoided. Although the general information is interesting, it is the details of Harold Bride’s life, and particularly his actions and feelings during April 1912, that I am looking for. What sort of a young man was he? How did he speak and act? What did he really do on the night of the sinking and why? Of course, the musical is fictionalised to a degree, but even if I have to deviate from the truth, I would like to know that I am doing so, and why.

I’m also intending to learn Morse code. There are several points when Bride is supposed to be sending messages by tapping on the key of his equipment. When this happens, particularly in the sequence where the distress signal CQD is sent, I would like to be tapping the right rhythms. It will help my performance to be able to ‘send’ messages almost without thought, and it would please me if the messages make sense. I can also imagine that audience members who are fluent in Morse code would find it very annoying if the supposed radioman is actually tapping out a message like r7mgebe4t. I know that very few audience members would have the required knowledge to notice, let alone be paying sufficient attention, but I think it’s important.

This is a wonderful part, which gives an opportunity to create (or recreate) an intriguing character and includes some interesting solo/duet singing as well as the magnificent choral music.  Though I do not mean it in a strange luvvie sort of way, I look forward to becoming Harold Bride.

  1. That is wonderful news. I do learn of the most interesting things : Encyclopedia Titanica is something I’m definitely going to have a look at. I think Morse code is in my Swallows and Amazons books which I can lend you.

  2. I think I could spend the whole of the period between now and the show reading about RMS Titanic and would still not read everything written about it – it seems to capture the imagination.

    And Swallows and Amazons – now that takes me back! I haven’t read any of those for years!

  3. Oh, yes, do learn morse code. It’s nifty in itself, but it will make all the difference to any audience member who does know it.

    My mother’s aunt was a West End actress in the 1930s and 1940s and played the part of an elderly European woman once, a part which required her to knit. You may or may not know that the English knit with the wool in their right hands, (which is inefficient and slows them down) but that Europeans knit with the wool in their left hands. (Get Agapanthus to demonstrate next time you are both in the same Shelf of Librarians).

    Anyway, my Ma’s Aunt took the time to re-learn to knit, to the bemusement of her colleagues. However she got a fan letter thanking her for taking the time. Her correspondent knew the play and spent the whole of the first half in an agony of anticipation, dreading that she would ruin an utterly convincing performance by knitting with an English accent, and was thrilled when she knitted like a European.

    So do learn morse. It’ll make the play more interesting for you and as you rightly say it will stop you annoying any morse-speakers with gibberish.

    Have fun.


  4. What a wonderful story, Aphra. I didn’t know about different knitting styles, but it certainly demonstrates how paying attention to what may seem like little things can make a big difference to people in the audience. I’m getting there with memorising morse. Tapping at speed will take quite some time, though!

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