Edinburgh Fringe 2019
Wild Unfeeling World is ‘an incredibly unreliable retelling of Moby Dick’ and a love letter to London. Cleverly written and beautifully performed, it explores issues of mental health and self worth with a lightness of touch and a moving vulnerability.
Wild Unfeeling World is billed as ‘an incredibly unreliable retelling of Moby Dick’. And, truth be told, there isn’t a huge amount of Moby Dick in it. Instead the relationship between Ahab and his foe the devil whale, and a sprinkling of watery allegories, are used as pegs on which to hang a new story.
It is the new piece by Casey Jay Andrews, creator of The Archive of Educated Hearts, a previous Fringe First winner. It tells the tale of a young woman called Dylan who is experiencing an erosion of the spirit. “She can’t work out if she forgot how to be joyous because the things in her life fell apart, or if the things in her life fell apart because she forgot how to be joyous.”
It is staged in an intimate space in the round, the wooden walls bearing maps and chalked scene titles; the only set is a small table with a tiny whale, a miniature ship and a crew of cats. Yes, cats.
Andrews is a natural (and naturalistic) raconteur. Her words trip off her toungue wth a delivery somewhere between spoken word, soliloquy and jackanory.
The production is nicely stitched together: direction (Steve McCourt) is lighthanded but effective; sound composition (George Jennings) atmospherically subtle; lighting (Rachel Sampley) tight and simple. Andrews operates light and sound herself, punctuating the scenes.
On one level the story is simple – an epic journey undertaken (albeit in a day) by a woman on the edge of a breakdown. Yet it is also wildly surreal, beautifully written and peppered with witty references to the story of Moby Dick.
It is full of fascinating phenomena too – pareidolia; desire lines (or ‘paths that make themselves’; object permanence – a geeky set of ideas that might seem random, but are cleverly woven into a tale where their presence makes absolute sense. We are like collectors on an expedition to discover new things.
Andrews uses the parallels of Herman Melville’s tale to explore her themes, including those of self destructiveness, blame and rigidity. Captain Ahab is uncompromising – someone who would “strike the sun if it insulted” him. Moby Dick is an unwitting wreaker of havoc. Both are trapped together in a groove of destruction. And the themes also echo those of Melville’s own battle with mental health challenges. Ultimately, this is a story that exhorts us to be kind to ourselves and to each other.
Andrews’ setting is the wondrous world of London – specifically the Thames; and that bitter-sweet day in 2006 when a bottlenose whale found its way up the Thames. She calls it a love letter to London. It also feels like a love letter to making “life rafts out of shipwrecks”.
It’s arresting stuff, each line bringing a lovely turn of phrase, a clever allusion or a neat factoid. But the most compelling part of the show is Andrews herself, and above all her ability to be vulnerable whilst holding the space and setting out this story for us all.
At one point Andrews jokingly suggests we should call her Ishmael. There is something universal about this story; and perhaps it is like the sea, “where each man as in a mirror finds himself”.
For any lovers of story, allegory, spoken word, cats, Moby Dick or London (and let’s face it that covers most of us!), Wild Unfeeling World is a must see show.