Moby Dick! The Musical review – high camp on the high seas

Hereward Kaye and Robert Longden’s musical was Cameron Mackintosh’s big mistake. It cost £1.2m and opened at the Piccadilly theatre in March 1992, was swiftly harpooned by the critics and sank 15 weeks later.

Andrew Wright heaves it to the surface once more, directing the whole thing with such misplaced dogged energy in the tiny Union theatre that it’s as if he is expecting an imminent transfer back to the Piccadilly.

The conceit of this not unlikable but risible musical is that the staff and pupils of the St Trinian’s-style St Godley’s are attempting to save their failing school by staging a musical version of Herman Melville’s novel. It’s all jolly hockey sticks to the deck as the cast run around in gym slips delivering the bare bones of the story with such feverish effort you start to wonder whether they have all developed a sudden temperature.

Pleasantly unmemorable songs … Moby Dick: The Musical. Photograph: Pamela Raith

It’s not their fault that this never floats. There are some fine voices that show off its pleasantly unmemorable songs to some effect. But the play within a play makes it hard to distinguish between deliberate bad acting and the real thing, and the book and the production deliver so little real emotion or wit that the show ends up a blubber of camp and double entendre. It’s just never funny enough. “Three years at sea and still no sign of Dick,” is the evening’s most memorable smutty line. On this showing, another 25 years could pass and Dick still wouldn’t be missed.

  • At the Union theatre, London, until 12 November. Box office: 020-7261 9876.

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