Moby Dick! The Musical
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Famously a flop for Cameron Mackintosh in the '90s, this delightfully silly meta-musical makes a fringe return
It’s amazing what you can do with a few hockey sticks, some bedlinen and a projector. A (school) play within a play – with all the paraphilia you would find in the gym of your local comp – ‘Moby Dick! is a reprisal of a semi-infamous musical that hasn’t seen the lights of a London stage since 1992. Famously a flop for Cameron Mackintosh, has it aged like fine wine over the last 25 years? Perhaps not, but it’s certainly fun.
Set within a school on the brink of closure, the faculty and troubled female students decide to stage an all-singing adaptation of Herman Melville’s impenetrable whaling novel ‘Moby Dick’. Heading the school, captaining the ship and leading the cast is a dragged-up Anton Stephans, who has a brilliant voice and a suitably manic look in his eye. And the cast as a whole are strong, which is good because if they weren’t Andrew Wright’s production could feel legitimately am-dram. It’s total chaos but it’s all by design and there is plenty of clever choreography, particularly the use of a wooden gymnastics horse, which is moved around to become the ship and then the whale.
The nature of it means that you’re watching two dramas unfold at once, so just as you start to sink into the Melville storyline, you’ll be yanked back by some slapstick or a dick joke, sometimes the same one told again.
If I had a pound for every time I heard ‘one year at sea and still no sign of dick’ – well I would probably have about three pounds, but you get the picture. Dramatic and tragic scenes are always tempered by something ridiculous, like a Boris Jonson mask or a phallic hockey stick. The whole thing is perplexing but delightfully silly.