Over the last fifty four days of online reviewing I have tried to make sure that my selection has been as wide ranging as possible. So, I hope I can be forgiven, just for once, for heading in the same direction on two successive days. I had been so captivated by the work of physical theatre company Spymonkey that following my viewing/reviewing of their show Hysteria (click here) I thought I’d also try Moby Dick which started streaming yesterday.
Based, well sort of, on the Herman Melville classic novel, a moment’s pause for thought makes you realise that putting on a show which involves an epic sea voyage in a hunt for a great white whale is not one that will transfer to the stage readily. Indeed, it is a challenge of massive proportions only to undertaken by those who are slightly crazy. Fortunately, Spymonkey are slightly crazy – in fact they are downright bonkers. As has already become my expectation with their work, Moby Dick has pretensions far above its station being hampered by its own ambition, the apparent ineptitude of the cast selected by theatrical doyen Tony Park and they fact that they only have “half a ship”. Although the thread of the original story is woven into the fabric of the show it is really the myriad of inventive delights punctuating the action which keeps the audience hooked.
We’ve all met a Tony Park (played by Toby Park) – someone who takes on a theatrical project with so much seriousness that there is no room left for fun. His exasperation over the development of his production is hilarious to watch and as he is also playing, among others, anti-hero Captain Ahab he is right there at the centre of the storm. The character Ahab and the clown persona of Park merge – both men are obsessives in pursuit of their goals…it’s just that one has a hilariously naff false leg clearly not carved out of the whalebone claimed. Around Park spin the other three performers also playing multiple roles and having (sorry about this) a whale of a time.
Aitor Basauri takes the central role of narrator Ishmael and eventually the whale (don’t ask) and keeps us enthralled with the same level of consummate clowning noted in Hysteria. This time round he’s possibly outdone by Stephan Kreiss as cannibal harpooner Queequeg and several other roles. Kreiss’ routine as he tries to stand upright on the sloping deck is a masterclass in clowning. Petra Massey is alarmed to discover that female roles are rather thin on the ground – she hasn’t read the book – but doesn’t let that deter her from putting in many appearances not least as the singing mermaid figurehead of The Pequod or The Peacock or whatever Basauri’s mangled English comes up with. Massey also takes on the duties of puppeteer, manipulating, voicing and eventually morphing into cabin boy Pip. I had some slight concerns with this aspect being potentially offensive.
In my previous Spymonkey review I listed a whole slew of comedy greats referenced by the show. After watching Moby Dick I’d like to add to the list the National Theatre of Brent – the section where the audience are used to create a storm at sea was very reminiscent – and in the preacher section the ridiculous arms were a direct steal from Kenny Everett, though none the worse for that. Belying its seemingly rough theatre approach, the stage design of Lucy Bradridge and Graeme Gilmour is a delight, none more so than when the cast start the second half with an underwater neon ballet. Renowned masterclown Jos Houben and Rob Thirtle direct with their feet on the accelerator and ensure that routines are finely honed if at times a little self-indulgent.
To be honest, I didn’t think the show was as good as Hysteria, not quite reaching the tear inducing levels of mirth I had previously experienced but by most standards it was still very good. On reflection, maybe I should have rationed myself a little more severely and built up the level of expectation before plunging into Spymonkey’s brand of anarchic humour again. But don’t worry I shall be back next Sunday when they release their next piece called The Complete Deaths as the group perform all 76 onstage demises in Shakespeare. As it’s written and directed by Tim Crouch that’s double joy to look forward to!
Moby Dick is available via the Spymonkey website. Click here for freestreams or go to Vimeo OnDemand
To keep up with the blog and all the latest online theatre reviews please click here and choose a follow option
For my Theatre Online list (suggestions and news of newly released productions) please click here. This list is supplemented by daily updates on Twitter (@johnchapman398)