BANBRIDGE man Michael Lavery is excited. He has become one of the Belfast ‘Titanic Boys’ and is ready to walk up the gangway to a whole new adventure.
But, unlike his alter-ego as a Titanic apprentice, Michael’s journey will be a professional and emotional one and takes place on dry land - on the stage of Belfast’s Grand Opera House in the new Martin Lynch play which tells the true story of tradesmen chosen to sail on the ship’s ill-fated maiden voyage.
“My alter-ego is one of four young apprentices chosen to sail on the maiden voyage as part of Harland and Wolff’s ‘Guarantee Group’,” explains the award-winning actor who starts rehearals for ‘The Titanic Boys’ in July. “The apprentices are chosen for the high standard of their workmanship and they are asked to join other senior tradesmen on the ship when it sets sail out of Belfast Harbour.
“It is a huge honour to be asked to travel and the men are asked on the off-chance that something may go wrong with the ship while it is at sea - and they will be on hand to fix it.”
Anchored somewhere between the glamour and calamity that is the Titanic story, ‘The Titanic Boys’ brings the story back to where it all began - Belfast.
“People are starting to say they are getting fed up with Titanic stories, that they are ‘Titanic-ed out’, but how can you be fed up with your heritage?” asks the actor, best known for his fictional ‘Barney’, the Titanic chef, role in ‘Belfast Bred’.
“When you get beneath the gloss of Hollywood films like ‘Titanic’ starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, it is fascinating to find real, untold stories like this - stories of back-street Belfast boys who were literally the nuts and bolts of the Titanic story, who worked long hours in a dangerous, precarious profession in which many paid with their lives.”
Michael’s passion for the play - and the Titanic in general - is obvious, although he missed the recent launch and preview at the Grand Opera House - but only because it happened to clash with his honeymoon.
“Yes, there was not much I could do about that,” he laughs, “but my good friend Sean Blainey stepped into the shoes of my alter-ego, Frank Parks, and did an excellent job in the excerpt they acted out for guests at the launch.”
The newly-married Mary-Ellen Lavery would doubtless have had something to say about missing her honeymoon for the occasion, although Michael says she understands the ‘pull’, being involved in the industry herself.
In fact, the two met while on set shooting a film, although Mary-Ellen now works for an entertainments company and organises her acting schedule around the requirements of the ‘day’ job.
A graduate of Theatre Studies at the Belfast Met, Michael fell fortuitously into acting, mainly due to the encouragement of enthusiastic parents.
“I had never thought about being an actor until I had my first professional gig aged 15,” says the full-time actor, who has now reached the grand old age of 25. “My parents sort of pushed me into acting as a means of preventing me from getting in with a bad crowd and as soon as I did some work with the Youth Lyric I was hooked.”
He graduated with a BTEC Higher National Diploma in 2007 and hasn’t looked back since. Work with companies such as the Big Telly Theatre Company, Tinderbox and Kabosh followed and he has also impressed with high profile television roles, notably in the BBC’s popular ‘The Tudors’ series.
“I love character work mainly and I enjoy getting inside a role; finding out what makes a character tick,” he says. “Many of my friends don’t see acting as hard work - they think you just learn some lines and then go on the stage or in front of television cameras and deliver them.
“Of course, anyone who has ever taken part in a play knows there is so much research and hard work involved. In ‘The Titanic Boys’ there is also a lot of physicality and we will be rehearsing for an intensive four weeks from the start of July until the play opens in August.
“I can’t wait to get started. It may be another story of the Titanic, but one which I hope Northern Ireland audiences will embrace.
“As far as I am concerned, there can never be too many stories. If I had my way, I would be pushing them all down people’s throats.”
The Titanic Boys opens in the Grand Opera House on August 8 and runs until August 25th.