The basic premise of Moby Alpha is a two-man reimagining of Melville’s classic Moby Dick, set in space, the maniacal Captain Ahab chasing the ‘great white energy cloud’ which stole his leg. However Seattle duo Charles appears to be not so much geared towards a retelling of the book, as they are towards humouring the audience through a plethora of cultural references, metaphorical nods and winks and general silliness.
The show opens with an amusing little voiceover, reminding us that space is a vacuum and that our applause, along with the sound of our mobile phones will produce absolutely no noise, before we inevitably applaud and switch our phones off. This sheer absurdity arguably sets the tone for the rest of the hour; Moby Alpha is unashamedly self-aware, and irrepressibly farcical. The plot points which held the original novel together are frequently and comically dismantled, and the main currency of the show really becomes the fact that it is absolutely laden with cultural jokes and references, predominantly sci-fi but also covering on the way 60’s pop culture, The Odyssey and Plato’s Cave. It is a formula which for the most part works very well, the audience quickly grasp and enjoy parodies of iconic scenes such as Alien’s chest-burster along with a wide variety of other films, series, books and ideas which drop in and out of the performance along the way.
In some ways though, this careful and quirky eye for detail is also the show’s weakness; the writers’ weaving together of various fictions is enjoyable and fairly slick, but the story gets somewhat lost in the morass of pop culture, sci-fi and classical allusions. That doesn’t detract from the overall picture, but it sometimes creates a feeling of loving self-indulgence on the writers’ part. There is a clear determination to cram as many references as possible into the show, so that there are moments when a good proportion of the audience simply don’t know whether they’ve missed an allusion to something or not, and are left just feeling vaguely bereft and confused.
That said, the verbally comic moments are also effectively offset by competent and amusing physical theatre by the two actors; it’s the sort of mime performance which is common within space-themed shows, gravity-lite walking, ‘opening the airlock’, ‘accelerating the spaceship’, but it’s well done, with plenty of little comic additions and ensures that the humour doesn’t become verbally overladen or clunky. The production team are also to be commended, the eerily glowing helmets which the two men wear provide the only lighting for the entire show, and help focus on both the actor’s bodies and their movement and eradicating any need for set, whilst the varied light settings lend themselves extremely well to mood and character changes throughout.
Overall, this a show which, even if you don’t get half of the geeked-up references is still worth the watch. As the duo remark at the end, in reality who actually has read Moby Dick? It’s physical, fun, self-abasing and though we frequently forget where we are going during the performance, no one seems to mind, so buckle up and enjoy the ride…
Moby Alpha played at Assembly George Square as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. For more information, see the Fringe website.