Moby Dick at The Royal & Derngate, Northampton Review


Reviewed by Mel Randle

Last night myself and my daughter (8) were invited to The Royal & Derngate Theatre to watch the new Simple8 production of Moby Dick. This was a particularly special night as it was the first part of their national tour, and more importantly, it was produced in association with the theatre as part of their Made In Northampton season. So it was an honour to be amongst the first to see it! As a side note, I have been to the Derngate many times, but have never been ‘underground’ to The Royal, the original theatre, and all its Victorian splendour. That was a treat in itself!

The show is an adaptation based on the 1851 novel ‘Moby Dick’ by Herman Melville about a sailor who goes hunting for a whale that he had encountered years earlier when it had attacked his boat and bitten off his leg! Until I started preparing for this show, I didn’t realise I didn’t know the story. Moby Dick is such a familiar name that I, like many others it turns out, thought he swallowed a man. It seems we have blurred lines between Moby, the story of Jonah and Pinocchio!

The set was wonderful. As we took our seats, we could have been forgiven for thinking they were a little behind schedule and not ready for us. Scaffolding, planks, ladders, instruments, boxes, and other objects filled the stage, however, it turns out all scene changes, props, sound effects and music were orchestrated by the cast using the materials available to them. Scaffolding was transformed from the walls of a sailor’s inn into the bow of a ship and planks changed from decking to rowing boats. Lighting and dry ice were used to create dramatic effect.

That being said, the main effects came from the actors themselves. This felt like a really professional back to basics art presentation where mime and imagination played a key role. These days we are so used to seeing big productions with elaborate sets and moving objects, it’s easy to forget that actors were trained to role play with nothing but the floor beneath them. So the pulling of the ropes, the rowing of the boats and the rocking of the ship in a storm were all completely believable and kept us captivated throughout.

It should be no surprise that the actors managed to pull off such a professional production because they are all highly credited actors from stage and screen. Mark Arends (Ishmael) could be seen recently in ‘Mr Bates vs The Post Office’ and Guy Rhys (Captain Ahab) has a string of TV credits to his name. The cast of nine were multi talented with several role changes and musical instruments, including the accordion, played live on stage.

To enlighten what I would consider now to be quite a dark storyline, given that whale hunting these days would be considered a big no-no, the cast performed several toe tapping sea shanties and provided humour throughout. It certainly worked as there was much laughter from the audience, especially in the first half.

Overall, we both really enjoyed it. The story was easy to follow and what it lacked in visual adornment it certainly made up for in imagination and energy. I came away feeling like I had been cultured, educated, and entertained all at the same time!

Rating: 5/5

Moby Dick is playing at The Royal and Derngate until Saturday 13th April 2024 before embarking on it’s national tour. Details can be found at

To book tickets for The Royal & Derngate and find details of access performances, visit their website


Show More
Back to top button