Review: Moby Dick
A swashbuckling adventure onboard Brunel's iconic SS Great Britain in Bristol
Darkstuff Productions, who have made a name for themselves as Bristol’s go-to site specific, immersive theatre company, have joined forces with the Tobacco Factory Theatres and jumped aboard Brunel’s SS Great Britain to bring us an adaptation of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.
The setting is completely spectacular: the audience are led all around the deck, below board, and even to the very bottom of the ship, all the while watching the action unfold. It’s a gift of a set, and the company use it to its best advantage.
We begin in the dockyard, with Ismael finding that the only place to sleep for the night is a bed shared with a stranger. This stranger is Queequeg, and in the morning, both sign up to become crew on Captain Ahab’s whale mission. So begins a deep friendship forged in the inhospitable sea.
The whole company work really well together as an ensemble cast, incorporating the audience into the ship’s crew by getting us to sweep the deck, tie knots, and fold sheets. Looking out across the water, it doesn’t take a huge leap of faith to imagine us all as sailors, watching Moby Dick emerging, wounded and dangerous. Director Alison Farina does a great job of making this tale universally accessible and relatable, focusing on the blind determination and blinkered ambition of humanity. The final scene is a beautiful end to the thoughtful, enjoyable production.
It’s a brave task adapting such a huge monster of a book (sorry) into a play of just over one hour. Inevitably, the development of characters and their inter-connections are often skated over, and at a couple of points I felt myself wanting more. As an exciting immersive experience on a beautiful and historic site, however, it’d be very hard to beat. Bring all the wannabe sailors in your life, young and old, and start practicing your sea shanties.
Moby Dick is on at the SS Great Britain until Mon 26 August. Venue: Brunel’s SS Great Britain, Great Western Dockyard, Gas Ferry Road, Bristol BS1 6TY tobaccofactorytheatres.com
Words Alex Sayers. Photos Graham Burke.