When Cameron Mackintosh produced Robert Longden and Hereward Kaye’s Moby Dick! The Musical in 1992, the production became his first flop. A West End theatre was obviously not the right choice for this anarchic musical. Still Andrew Wright saw its potential and now presents a brand new production for the show’s 25th Anniversary at the more intimate Union Theatre in Southwark.
Set at the fictitious St. Godley’s Academy for Young Ladies, which bears a strong resemblance to St Trinian’s, the show is a musical within a musical. After a devastating evaluation stating that St. Godley’s is “dysfunctional in every way” the school is facing bankruptcy but Headmistress Dame Rhoda Hottie and her resourceful pupils have an idea how to secure the funds: stage a musical inspired by the Herman Melville’s classic “Moby Dick” as a fundraiser with Dame Rhoda in the meaty role of Captain Ahab! Jill-of-all-trades Dinah Sores plays Ishmael and is also responsible for the book, music, and lyrics of the show – as detailed in the programs that can be found on the seats in the auditorium. The program entails a synopsis of “Moby Dick” which is a good idea as the show itself has little in common with the tale of the white whale.
Set in a school hall, the performance starts off with the fanfare of Twentieth Century Fox, only to be followed by a makeshift MGM-emblem complete with roaring lion as schoolgirls bounce across the stage for the opening number. This is a high-energy show with many catchy tunes and even more wacky ideas – props are used in the most inventive ways. Captain Ahab returns from his latest sea voyage and informs his sex-starved wife Esta that Moby Dick did not only take his leg. Esta is beside herself, yet her reaction is nothing compared to Miss Mona Lott’s, who is playing Esta, when she finds out that her performance is reduced to one single scene because Captain Ahab kills his wife in his rage. Left a broken man, Ahab finds himself chased by demons wearing paper masks as they sing “Twisted Ahab”.
Despite the warnings of the lunatic Elijah, Ishmael and Quequeg, who have become fast friends, join the crew of the Pequod, where they encounter first mate Starbuck – yes, there are a few too many jokes about a famous brand – and second mate Stubb, played by sexy blonde Fonda Cox who cannot remember her lines so they are written down in the most improbable places. Additional members of the crew are Ahab’s cabin boy Pip, who has a father complex, Coffin, and Tashtego. As the Pequod makes her journey across the sea, it soon becomes clear that Ahab has only one goal – revenge on Moby Dick.
Although Andrew Wright’s production is over the top in most respects, including a few repetitive jokes and a drawn-out second half, it strongly benefits from a dedicated cast who act, dance and sing their hearts out. Anton Stephans is sufficiently sinister as the Captain yet hilariously eccentric at the same time when playing Dame Rhoda Hottie. Brenda Edwards is all diva as Ahab’s prematurely deceased wife Esta with a voice to match. Rachel Ann Raynham is lovely as the fresh-faced Ishmael and Pérola Congo is sprightly and charming as sidekick Queequeg. Glen Facey gives his all, dancing and whirling around the stage as Pip. Laura Mansell’s impressive voice is adequately showcased in the beautiful bluesy song “Whale Of A Tale”.
This was my first visit to the new Union Theatre and it is friendly, welcoming venue. However, the sight lines in the auditorium might need some improvement. For shorter people, I would recommend to sit in the front row for this show if it wasn’t for the danger of audience participation.
Reviewed by Carolin Kopplin
Photo: Pamela Raith
MOBY DICK! THE MUSICAL is playing at the Union Theatre until 12 November 2016