Theatre reviews: The White Whale, Kes and Dracula

The White Whale, Leeds Dock by Nick Ahad *****

Jacob James Beswick as the young Billy and Ray Castleton as the older Billy, from the cast of Kes
Jacob James Beswick as the young Billy and Ray Castleton as the older Billy, from the cast of Kes

Call me Ishmael. It is one of the most famous opening lines of a novel. Not here. Not when Slung Low get their collective hands on Moby Dick.

Learning a long time ago the lesson that you should find one thing and become very good at it, Slung Low has become very good at what it does. What it does is take stories and infuses them with the spectacular.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

With Moby Dick that means water. Lots of water. It should, of course, also include a whale – it is a huge compliment to the company that I was genuinely quite disappointed when a full size whale didn’t break the surface of the water. I truly didn’t think it would be beyond their wit.

James Phillips has provided a script that, while undeniably poetic, is not all that narratively driven. Captain Ahab wants his whale. Ishmael is an enigmatic young Muslim man who lives in the present day and may have ideas toward creating terror on the streets – it’s a little unclear. It doesn’t really matter. The point is that Slung Low have once again brought the mountain to Mohammed and put theatre in the heart of Leeds Dock – where people actually live.

A well deserved sell-out show, this will further cement Slung Low’s reputation. If they can nail their narratives down just a little more, this company will hit the stratosphere.
• To September 14.

Kes, Cast, Doncaster, by Nick Ahad ***

How many more versions of Kes do we need? If they all do something like this one by Kully Thiarai, then keep them coming. Kes is loved around the world, but here in Yorkshire is where we truly understand it. The story of a boy who finds hope and release in the training of a kestrel, it is a stunning story. In Doncaster, one of our more beleaguered towns, it has enormous resonance. Thiarai has cast local people in this production and that creates a show with real warmth and heart and depth. In honouring the community members of the cast – rightly so – Thiarai sacrifices a little of the drama and pace of the story. It is a sacrifice worth making because it makes a for a show that will be warmly embraced by the local audience - who Thiarai has ultimately made this piece of work for.

• To September 13.

Dracula, West Yorkshire Playhouse, by Stephanie Ferguson ****

Goths used to throw roses when Northern Ballet staged its original version of this vampire classic. No roses here but dancing to make your pulse race, the stellar quality compensating for the more crass moments of this very different production.

It’s a bit Hammer House of Horror in parts when the red mist comes down and the fangs sink in with a frenzy of orgasmic leg-twitching. David Nixon’s take, dare I say it, lacks the bite of the 1996 staging. However, this is still an arresting, atmospheric ballet. Tobias Batley gives us an elegant, world-weary Count, desperately restraining his blood-letting urges, predatory yet contained, athletic and pathetic in turn. The partnership between him and Martha Leebolt as his beloved Mina is electrifying and their duos soar from tender to horrifying to dazzling as the desperation of their bond kicks in.

• To September 13.