On a hot evening what could be finer than a trip out to sea? A company that focuses on the visual and the physical, Living Structures are currently creating an ocean in a land-locked bit of central Hackney. Based on Melville’s epic tome Moby Dick, and using extracts from the book, Leviathan offers just a snapshot of the story, focusing, of course, on the pursuit of the white whale. Ishmael and Ahab are here but their characters are weak and undeveloped in the face of a visual storm.
And what a visual storm it is: huge swathes of canvas, rope, rigging and inflated silk imaginatively whisk us out to sea on a whaling boat. It’s an illusion boosted by atmospheric lighting and eerie chants. Even the audience are attractively uniformed in white plastic macs to protect us from the (gentle) spray. The opening scene – where waves are projected onto a sweep of fabric for a naked Ishmael to swim across – is neatly matched by a closing scene where we find ourselves underwater, the fabric now sweeping over our heads and Ishmael clambering away from us.
Tightly choreographed and visually strong, then, the problem is Leviathan is all atmosphere and no depth. Looking at the long credits, no writer or researcher is listed, and you can tell. Much of what is said here is barely audible, delivered as it is through loud hailers or drowned out by other discordant sounds. Even plays without words benefit from strong dramaturgy. It’s an attractive performance, and the production values are high, but go for the spectacle rather than anything more substantial.