The cult musical and sensational 90s flop for Cameron Mackintosh has been revived at the Union Theatre, directed and choreographed by Andrew Wright. After hearing the word ‘bonkers’ bandied around too many times to mention, a friend told me to go with an open mind… open of whale-istic proportions as bonkers it certainly is.
It’s the classic whale of tale but not as we know it. St Godley’s Academy has been led into disrepute at the hands of unruly students and a gin swilling headmistress. In order to keep the school open and reformed with a status of respectability, they stage Herman Melville’s story as a musical to raise much needed funds. A show-within-a-show if you will.
With mischief and mayhem comes forgotten lines, cast spats, graffitied props and shortage of electricity. There are more dick jokes than you can shake a hockey stick at but the camped-up humour becomes a little repetitive. There are some chuckle worthy moments, largely brought to the desk by the talented Laura Mansell as Starbuck who uses her namesake to pull in some laughs.
At times the stage is flooded with gymnasium props, projectors, sheets and a paddling pool and it all feels a little overwhelming in the intimate staging. There are some clever touches with the use of the gym horse that gets reconstructed into a ship and also a little nod to Lloyd Webber and Cam Mack’s Phantom of the Opera, but with the slightly chaotic nature on stage, it certainly felt like my high school drama lessons.
The redeeming features in this production are the gifted voices in the cast, notably Rachel Anne Rayham as Ishmael and I hugely enjoyed Laura Mansell’s ‘Whale of a Tale’. Brenda Edwards from XFactor makes a show stopping appearance but sadly her stage time is short. She is joined by fellow XFactor chum Anton Stephans who delivers a performance reminiscent of Rupert Everett in St Trinians as the drag Headmistress, doubled up as Captain Ahab.
It’s a niche show and I am sure will be loved by fans of the original. The cast perform with real gusto and heaps of enthusiasm but with the final lines of the show being ‘the critics won’t like it’… they’re not far wrong.
(Photo courtesy of Pamela Raith)