Book, music and lyrics: Hereward Kaye and Robert Longden
Director and Choreographer: Andrew Wright
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
If making a musical out of Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby Dick seems an absurd idea, then making a musical out of a bunch of schoolgirls making a musical out of that novel must be more so by several multiples. Nonetheless, this is exactly the premise behind this 1983 show, a collaboration between Hereward Kaye and Robert Longden, which had a decent run at London’s Piccadilly Theatre in 1991 and has achieved a growing cult status since.
The cramped Union Theatre is closer to the size of the school hall where all the action takes place and, therefore, a much more apt setting for the show than a conventional theatre. Furthermore, this time around, the fun is not going to be spoiled by having had to pay West End ticket prices.
The musical within a musical created by the pupils of St Godley’s Academy for Girls, to be performed by themselves and their teachers, has clear influences of pantomime, “Moby Dick Whittington” perhaps,and draws from the same dictionary of double entendres. The girl seven have their own “dame” in the form of their headmistress, played with relish by Anton Stephans, although, when she assumes the role of Captain Ahab, a man playing a woman playing a man becomes a bit of a stretch.
Andrew Wright’s bouncy revival rarely flags, making it all awful fun rather than just plain awful. Perhaps it is difficult to go wrong when the humour derives from the show being terrible, meaning that the worse it gets the better it gets. Hockey sticks and tennis rackets serve as makeshift props, blue sheets become the rolling ocean and Moby just has to be seen to be believed.
Ahab leaves a wife onshore who, as played by Brenda Edwards, has a voice to be heard hundreds of miles out at sea and the crew members of his ship are all played with boisterous energy as they set sail to hunt down the whale that bit off their captain’s leg. They include the pushy Ishmael (Rachel Anne Rayham), the coffee-drinking Starbuck (Laura Mansell), the slutty Stubb (Aimee Hodnett) and the courageous Pip (Glen Facey). Moby Dick himself is voiced by Russell Grant who, perhaps, ought to have seen in the stars what would be coming after him.
A four-piece band, under the musical direction of Lee Freeman,accompanies the songs, which let down the tone of the show by being surprisingly good. They merit no awards for originality and they make cheeky nods to almost every hit musical of the 1980s, but they are pleasingly tuneful, sufficiently varied to sustain a show that is almost sung through and, in chorus numbers,suited perfectly to the predominantly female harmonies.
A bizarre cross between the St Trinians films and Jaws set to music,the show is unashamedly silly, but the company of 10 packing this small venue clearly has a whale of a time, so it makes sense to go with the flow.
Runs until 12 November 2016| Image: Pamela Raith