Arts / The ‘Titanic’ exhibition sails on into success

“TITANIC the Exhibition”, claimed as the world’s most popular exhibition with more than 25 million visitors, is not coming to Canberra

But its general manager Alexis Vaughan, figuring that the entertainment precinct in Moore Park, Sydney, is just a quick drive down the highway, made a trip to town to show us some snippets from the huge show, which closes on February 4.

The work of Atlanta-based Imagine Exhibitions and its CEO Tom Zaller, who curated “Titanic”, it is one of more than 35 exhibitions in museums, science centres, aquariums, resorts and non-traditional venues. The one we’re likely to get next is the “Downton Abbey” show.

She showed us a small handful of examples, but the full show showcases more than 300 artefacts from “Titanic” and her sister ships the Olympic and the Britannic, and from James Cameron’s famous film about the doomed voyage in 1912 of the most luxurious ship in the world.

It’s definitely an interactive experience, Vaughan says. Visitors will receive a boarding pass corresponding with a real passenger on the ship and will feel as if they’re walking through the vessel. At the end, they’ll get to know of “their” passenger’s fate.

Luckily, Vaughan explains, the three ships were built at roughly the same time and were roughly identical, giving Zaller a clear idea of what the artefacts and furnishings were like. Thus the grand chandelier from the Olympic formed the basis of the movie chandelier.

All were intended as prestigious vessels for the first-class passengers at least, so firms like Moët & Chandon created a champagne bottle-shaped cigarette holder for the White Star Line – that’s on show.

While many artefacts from the sunken vessel have not survived, one has, a first-class egg cup filched by the maid after she was fired by the ship’s captain Edward John Smith, who perished when the ship sank.

“The egg cup survived because of an act of thievery,” Vaughan notes.

Talking of survivors, the show also deals with the aftermath of the tragedy, through a plaque from the lifeboat, reminiscences of a party thrown by American socialite Madeleine Astor for the rescue ship Carpathia and a Steiff teddy bear – worth more than $50,000 – produced to help raise funds for the orphans of “Titanic”. The little bear has red eyes, to show it’s been crying.

Cameron’s movie has proved to be a secondary source of artefacts. Kate Winslet’s “sinking coat” is there. So is her character’s heart-shaped necklace. Well, not the original – that’s worth well over $30 million and is kept by its owner Celine Dion, in her house.

“We bring the ‘Titanic’ to life,” Vaughan says. There’s a scale model, there are plans and the opportunity to walk into a first-class stateroom with the bed made up or have photos snapped on the grand staircase.

“The less glamorous side is shown too, in the boiler room for instance, where visitors can smell the coal or the telegraph room where desperate signals were going out to nearby ships,” she says.

There are newspaper clippings, there are statistics, court transcripts, new artefacts, a learning gallery and a newly-added virtual reality experience that lets visitors experience diving to the wreck.  

Vaughan lives and breathes the sinking of the ‘Titanic’, and she feels it. “We know that it was a freezing night with no moon in the sky, hinting of tragedy,” she says.

How best to capture that foreboding? The answer is simple – they’ve created a four-metre-high iceberg.

“It’s a cleverly constructed kind of icebox, but it’s real,” she says.

“Titanic – The Exhibition”, Byron Kennedy Hall, The Entertainment Quarter, Lang Road, Moore Park, until February 4. Bookings to Ticketek.com or 8240 2135, (weekdays 9am-5pm).

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