Review: Moby Dick on the SS Great Britain

Elizabeth Nicholls reviews Moby Dick, playing on Brunel’s SS Great Britain in Bristol until 26 August.

On Monday 19 August I attended Darkstuff Productions’ immersive re-imagining of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick on board Brunel’s SS Great Britain.

The promenade performance takes us through the iconic ship, above board, below deck, from port to starboard, and from bow to stern; every area of the ship is used.

This play is a feast for the senses, the natural rhythm of the harbour is enhanced with a soundtrack of whale song and storms, the rope passed between us has a strong-straw like smell, the various areas of the ship have their own distinctive scents too, and overlapping voices and sea shanties create an atmosphere that is chaotic and authentic.

The story has its highs and lows; we’re taken from laughter to heart-wrenching drama. Stubbs’ mischief and humour is contrasted with Captain Ahab’s fiery descent into madness.

In the finale we are guided into the dry docks beneath the ship where Ishmael pays a touching tribute to his shipmates who were lost at sea. With the water lapping at the glass above our heads just like we were under the waves, this is absolutely perfect staging.

It’s impossible to give a standing ovation when you’re already stood, but I would have, if I could.

Moby Dick runs at Brunel’s SS Great Britain until Monday 26 August – tickets are available to buy via Tobacco Factory Theatres.

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