Moby Dick: The Musical! at the Union Theatre
Following a 25 year absence after floundering in the West End, Moby Dick: The Musical! makes a jubilant return.
“Freely adapted” from the novel by Herman Melville, this comedy is an anarchic story of a school hoping to remain open by staging a play. How it quite manages this is a bit vague, and while it’s logic might be slightly optimistic, this is a show that will blow you away.
Of the same family as Rocky Horror, Moby Dick: The Musical! is a high camp extravaganza, reminiscent of Gilbert and Sullivan, with fast-paced, witty lyrics and a tongue-in-cheek attitude. Even without the sheer physicality of the performance, it’s a production that demands a lot of its cast, and it’s heartening to see former X Factor contestants Anton Stephens and Brenda Edwards not only holding their own, but stealing the show.
There is sometimes a danger to plays that use a schoolyard aesthetic, falling erroneously into a naive style that is neither accurate nor charming. This musical manages to navigate these waters skilfully with political references and actors who behave like teenagers, not teenage caricatures.
The costuming is meticulous and at times, disconcertingly convincing: Ismael looks like she should be under adult supervision, which is reinforced by the believable, minimal set design. Every prop, costume and set piece works seamlessly into the sloppy college theme, and it’s charmingly convincing. The rapid set changes and roughness of each scene hinges on the subtle but brilliant lighting design. It’s quick-fire and understated, but it’s one of the elements that takes this production from amateur dramatics to highly polished. Sound is equally considered, a live band – styled as a school orchestra – blends beautifully with the aesthetic, hiding in plain sight.
Modern social references add to the sometimes obvious sense of humour, and make the piece relevant, an important foil to the slapstick physicality. Some of the jokes don’t manage to land simply because of issues like sight-lines; for a play focussed on visual gags, the fun falters when actors disappear in a sea of heads, which happens for those not in the front rows.
Overall there’s a reassuring competence to this production that is slick, without being garish, rehearsed without feeling wooden. It’s a musical that delights in its own friendly silliness and that feeling is infectious.
Moby Dick: The Musical! offers a whale of a time; it is wittily designed, brilliantly performed, and cheaply priced.
Moby Dick: The Musical! is at the Union Theatre from 12th October until 12th November 2016, for further information or to book visit here.