Writer: James Phillips
Director: Alan Lane
Reviewer: Holly Spanner
Obsession is a double edged sword. It can focus and motivate us, but too much of it can drive us to ruin, making us blind to all else except that to which we attain. What happens when that obsession is driven not by passion, but revenge?
Leeds based Theatre Company Slung Low have created a new vision of Moby Dick, and have chosen the location of this piece to be staged in Leeds Dock. Specializing in creating adventures for audiences outside of conventional theatre spaces, the result is a totally immersive and engaging piece of theatre. Why create waves with lighting and sound, when you can have the real thing?
Supplied with a set of headphones, the audience gathers around the railings – each with a front row view. Ethereal music, whale song and live dialogue are fed through the headphones, but they also serve another purpose in blocking out unwanted background noise. Ever been in a theatre where the person next to you is innocuously munching (loudly) on popcorn? Not a problem for Slung Low.
In the future, the ban on whaling has been lifted and whales are hunted for the oil in their bodies. But so as not to contaminate the oil, whalers hunt with harpoons – bloodthirsty and vicious. The oil in one whale can fuel an army for a week. Captain Ahab (Oliver Senton) however, is not seeking oil or money, but to take his revenge on a huge white whale, the biggest in the ocean, that once dragged him down into the unforgiving black where he struggled for his life.
The first of many real wow moments comes as Captain Ahab’s ship, the Pequod rises up out of the murky depths of the water. As the crew make her ready for sail, they take it in turns addressing the audience with a running narrative. This style of spoken word is continued throughout the play by the cast of seven strong professional actors, with the main viewpoint portrayed by Ishmael (Nima Taleghani) – a Muslim seeking to quell the violence in his heart by hunting monsters at sea. Alex (Liam Evans-Ford), an American journalist who is embedded for the voyage of the Pequod, is a new character who shares focus with Ishmael. An outsider, his own personal voyage of what it means to be “embedded” is tangible through his reflective and thought-provoking monologues.
But we always are, aren’t we, all of us: implicated. Just it suits us to forget that fact sometimes, to stand on the shore and watch as other men struggle through the waves.
The technical elements are superb, and a shining example of the innovation of Slung Low. Whales are created through fountains of water shooting up from below the water’s surface, while the cast circle in small boats using the entirety of the docks to hunt their prey. There is a sense of enormity in this production, which includes hurricanes, pyrotechnics and ammunitions fire. The White Whale is an unconventional, unique and insightful piece of art. It’s more than just a play; it’s a new perspective and exhilarating new direction for theatre. Perfect summer viewing to reflect upon, highly recommended.
Runs Until: 14th September 2014