Union Theatre, London – until 12 November 2016
Guest reviewer: Rosalind Freeborn
The stage at the Union Theatre resembles a school gym of a failing school. Posters on the wall defaced by ribald, teenage scrawl and the audience invited by the dipso headmistress to watch a production of a pupil-penned musical based on the novel, Moby Dick, designed to ‘save the school from closure’.
This show maybe called Moby Dick, the musical, but there is little content which resembles Herman Melville’s original novel. Yes, there are sailors, yes, there is crazy Captain Ahab and a motley crew of whalers prepared to go to sea for years on end and yes, there are sightings of whales…. but it doesn’t really matter. Just as pantomimes don’t bother sticking to the original fairytales they’re based on, this production of the American classic is presented as an amateur musical send up of a psychologically challenging novel performed by a group of distracted schoolchildren.
So, are we in the middle of a St Trinian’s style romp through an under-rehearsed school show or are we being given chunks of drama based on a famous book? This production never quite established just what it was trying to achieve. The panto element was very strong. Anton Stephans gives a wildly over the top performance as ‘Twisted Ahab’ the villainous, vengeance-seeking captain. His voice is strong, his acting very mannered. In this show he has a long-suffering wife, Esta played by Brenda Edwards who has an equally strong voice and struts her stuff with theatrical aplomb. There is a strong former X-Factor element in this production.
The storytelling conveyed by Ishmael, the narrator of the novel, played with impressive seriousness by Rachel Anne Raynham, dressed in school uniform and, we’re told, the composer of the piece. There is an excellent contribution from Laura Mansell as Starbuck, also in school uniform, clutching the eponymous paper coffee cup and wearing a tri-corn hat for costume. Yes, there are visual jokes aplenty.
The rest of the cast flit from being saucy students who probably should spend serious time in detention to actors who attempt to transition into the hapless sailors they are playing. There are some good thumping songs, well sung, some lively routines, well danced and energetic leaping around to represent the hoisting of sails and rowing of boats. Hats off to the young cast for maintaining the pace of the show at breakneck speed. And further hats off to the band for steadying the ship and keeping everything flowing through the on-stage chaos.
Moby Dick, The Musical is a fun choice for a light-hearted night on the town and the chance to watch a talented cast have a whale of a time on stage.