oby Dick! The Musical possibly lacks the… subtlety of Herman Melville’s 1851 novel of which (and I am quoting the programme here) it is “freely adapted” from but tonight that is by no means a bad thing. Despite a West End flop under the helm of Cameron Mackintosh 25 years ago, the show has now resurfaced at the Union Theatre and brings with it a wave of silliness.
The story of the ill-fated voyage of the whaling ship Pequod under the obsessive captaincy of Ahab, hunting for the great white whale that cost him his leg and inadvertently the life of his wife, is subject tonight to a stark reimagining and (dare I say it…) revitalising. This production tells the tale of school students putting on their own production of the tale and it is in the school’s assembly-cum-gymnasium that the action takes place.
I say “action” when what I really mean is “chaos”. Beautiful, hilarious chaos. The audience are quite literally thrown in at the deep end as the stage is at once filled with hairspray and egos. The production rockets along over an infectious score as the school’s production steadily and comically “falls apart” due to costume malfunctions, offstage relationships and inappropriate choreography. Indeed this is musical theatre’s answer to Mischief Theatre excepting that tonight there are also enough dick-jokes and pelvic thrusts to supply a Seth Rogen comedy.
The musical itself is fun and sports great tunes, ‘Building America’ and ‘Heave Away’ will refuse to leave your head. But the real triumph on show tonight is the expert stagecraft on display. Andrew Wright’s choreography is only matched by the cast’s faultless execution of it and the energy instilled in the performances leaves the audience breathless. Substituting oars with tennis rackets, galleons with scooters and wooden legs with cricket pads helps this show become a homage both to the 1890s and the 1990s simultaneously. The cast are a formidable unit but Rachel Anne Rayham knows how to drive a plot, adding real energy as Ishmael whilst the others (notably Anton Stevans as headmistress Dame Rhoda Hottie) sure know how to fill one.
A show that doesn’t take itself too seriously and nor should it! Moby Dick! The Musical is a riotous evening of entertainment; escapism in its silliest form. A farcical classroom romp that walks the fine line between inappropriate and very inappropriate but will have you laughing with it all the way or you can call me Ishmael.
Moby Dick! The Musical is playing the Union Theatre until 12 November 2016. For more information and tickets, see the Union Theatre website.
Photo: Pamela Raith