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The Whale by Samuel D. Hunter

Ustinov Studio

 

The Ustinov Studio has once again produced an extraordinary piece of theatre. Perhaps one of the smaller producing venues in the country but over the past few years it has emerged as a vital force for new work that is both challenging and thought provoking. This production is no different.

The Whale by Samuel D. Hunter is visceral, brutal and heartbreaking. The performances are profoundly moving and no doubt the central role of Charlie played here by Shuler Hensley will remain in the memory of those lucky enough to grasp a ticket as an acting master class.

The plot revolves around Charlie who is an online tutor of writing. He is housebound due to his morbid obesity, heart failure and we learn he has a week to live. Here Charlie has a chance to reconcile his differences and what may seem like chance encounters and routine friendships soon piece together. The arrival of Charlie’s daughter Ellie (Rosie Sheehy) brings dialogue of breathtaking scathing revealing years of damage. The exchanges are dagger sharp but somehow Charlie sees optimism in everything the audience may be less convinced. Hunter purposely leaves this unresolved as with many questions raised.

The design by Tim Shortall sees Charlie physically beached on his own sofa afloat on a sea of empty soft drink bottles. He is metaphorically and emotionally at sea, a captain of his own destiny who has chosen the route taken. The reoccurring references to the biblical Jonah and Melville’s Moby Dick reflect the deeper emotions that run through both the storyline and the reasons for Charlie’s life choices.

Laurence Boswell has directed with great style; the pace never languishes and the swings of emotion, confrontation and superb humour are never far apart.

It is hard to remember such stillness from an audience at the end of a show; a collective silence and acknowledgement of another stunning success from the Ustinov team.
 
 
 

Petra Schofield