Book, Music & Lyrics by Hereward Kaye & Robert Longden.
The Union Theatre, Old Union Arches, 229 Union Street, London SE1 0LR to 12 November 2016.
Tues-Sat 7.30pm. Mat Sat & Sun 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 15 mins One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7261 9876
Review: William Russell 18 October.
A whale of a carry on
In 1992 impresario Cameron McIntosh brought this spoof musical in which a collection of schoolgirls much like those who attended St Trinians stage a musical based on Herman Melville’s Moby Dick to raise much needed funds into the West End. It had premiered the previous year at the Oxford Fire Station where student Andrew Wright fell in love with it and now directs and choreographs this absolutely dire revival, the first since its brief run ended in the West End after receiving damning reviews.
It has, however, been popular with amateur groups and it is easy to see why. You don’t need to be talented to play drag queens or Ronald Searle type schoolgirls, although it helps.
The basic joke is a good one, but requires the schoolgirls to be authentic Trinianites – the school is actually called St Godley’s – and the headmistress, played naturally by a man, has to play Ahab in the production. Anton Stephens can sing and has real stage presence, but as the headmistress he is just a drag queen and as Ahab there is nothing of the headmistress, which should underlie the performance and the ambivalence, is the joke. It can be done. Others have succeeded from Alistair Sim to Bertie Carvel by way of Rupert Everett.
As for the girls and two boys they are all patently talented and work their hearts out singing and dancing and leaping all over the place, but they have been so badly directed and the action so poorly staged that one ends up wishing Jonah’s whale would turn up and rescue them.
Among the “girls” Glen Facey as Pip, who wears a skirt but seems to be Ahab’s son, dances rather well and does some spectacular somersaults. He just needs to calm down and stop smiling all the time at the audience, a trait too common among new from drama school actors, to be rather good. Rachel Anne Rayham, a bespectacled carrot top, makes an effective Ishmael and the swot who created the show; Brenda Edwards interrupts the proceedings spectacularly from time to time as Ahab’s wife Esta, denied her part in the story, and not liking it; while Sam Barrett as Coffin, who plays a boy throughout, does a totally unnecessary but very funny strip at the end. But all their talents are squandered by the director’s handling of material which was not very good in the first place. The show was pretty awful in 1992 – I saw it – and nothing has changed for the better. If this were an end of the pier show it would get tossed off. Sir Cameron attended the press night, smiled throughout, having apparently always believed in the show. It has a large band and everyone is miked, which makes it all the more irritating that much of what they say is inaudible, but given what one hears maybe that is a blessed relief.
Ahab: Anton Stephens.
Esta: Brenda Edwards.
Coffin: Sam Barrett.
Queequeg: Perola Congo.
Pip: Glen Facey.
Stubb: Aimee Hodnett.
Tahiti: Rebekah Lowings.
Starbuck: Laura Mansell.
Elijah: Grant McConvey.
Ishmael: Rachel Anne Raynham.
Voice of Moby Dick: Russell Grant.
Director & Choreographer: Andrew Wright.
Set Designer: Anna Kelsey.
Lighting Designer: Tim Deiling.
Musical Director & additional orchestrations: Lee Freeman.
Costume Designer: Juliette Craft.
Orchestrations: Martin Koch.
Associate Director: Bryan Hodgson.
Associate Choreographer: Danny Douglas.
Sound Design: Gareth Tucker for Autograph.