Dead Puppet Society’s Ishmael || State-of-the-art Interstellar Adventure

Dead Puppet Society’s return of Brisbane Festival hit play, ‘Ishmael’ – the reimagining of classic, ‘Moby Dick’ by Creative Director, David Morton transcended the Queensland audience at the Cremorne Theatre at QPAC to a dystopian world with impressive state-of-the-art visual technology and a story of self-discovery and hope through the lens of an interstellar futuristic universe and a small strong cast of original characters. 

Set in the year 3033, a dead-Earth is depicted. Due to the consequences of climate change the poorest people live below the clouds with no sun, and stripped of their resources fighting for their lives, whereas the big corporations and wealthy folk live on the highest mountain tops with access to clean air and have constricted control over who can join them. The play entertains a ‘Hunger Games’ mentality with the rebel uprising below the clouds, and Ishmael escapes her way to a better life as a pilot. Her adventure through outer space begins.

Established actress and performer, Ellen Bailey brilliantly embodied the brave and determined role of Ishmael with such passion. Her stage presence was immeasurable as the space warrior who was true to the Miss Congeniality quote ‘all I have is sarcasm and a gun.’ Ellen was fierce as she tried to navigate the terrifying world outside dead-Earth even if she cheated her way to the top by buying the pilot test answers initially.

Her honest and raw vulnerabilities are then on full display as you see her versatility in her performance when she reveals she killed the leader of the resistance to get the corporations to trust her, but in turn mistakenly killed her own Mother on dead-Earth, whom she hadn’t seen in eons. Her relationships with the other members of the cast were so playful and confrontational. It was captivating to watch. Especially when they are all communicating in the ‘hoppers’, the spectacular space gliders they puppeteer so effortlessly.

Karl Richmond gave a stunning performance as an artificial intelligent Droid called Queequeg. Karl enamoured the Brisbane crowd with his breathtaking work as the over 900-year-old last of his kind escapee who lost his family. Karl was sensitive and bold as he became more human as the show progressed with his relationship with Ishmael.

They bounced off each other with ease and grew feelings for each other. It was beautiful to see the two characters blossom as they added little comedic elements to the serious drama. Karl really thrived in this production, especially as Queequeg was so selfless to remove his power source button to save Ishmael when their spaceship combusted.

Barbara Lowing encapsulated the hurt, brave, and confident aura of Captain Ahab of the Spacecraft MV Pequod with such grit and tough exterior. In addition, she took on the role of Coffin, the Corporation’s room assignment clerk. Barbara demonstrated her love for the stage with how she captured the audience’s full attention, especially in the showdown between her and Ellen’s character, Ishmael. She had a take nobody’s bullsh*t persona and it was enticing to witness, especially during her interactions with the Droid – Queequeg and particularly Ishmael who said to her, ‘It’s like looking in a mirror.’

Her sensitivity and sore spots were revealed when she stated she lost her brother in space, and she has been trying to find what took him ever since. Barbara gave a traumatic and courageous depiction of a woman who gave up her life and lost her family to discover life among the stars and reap the consequences.  

The technology in this inventive Australian masterpiece was magnificent to see on the QPAC stage. The miniature 3D models of futuristic buildings and spaceships on either side of the stage with a green screen to project the revolutionary divided world was remarkable. The cast were the ones operating the models and made it appear unbelievably real on the screen behind the actors. We have never seen innovative technology like this before. It was unique and gave the audience something different and exciting to enjoy, especially as a home-grown Australian production.

The music in the show was extraordinary and really progressed the story so beautifully. In fact, David Morton the Playwright and Creative Director said, ‘the score often exists in album form before we have a full draft of the script.’ That was special to think about as Bec Sandridge the Composer of the Score did a marvelous job at keeping up with the pace of the tale. It mirrored the eerie, soldier going into battle sound that you hear in futuristic or war films, it was the perfect combination of the two.

Dead Puppet Society’s Ishmael kept the Sunshine State audience on their toes as they marveled at the out-of-this-world technology combined with brilliant compelling actors to create the ultimate stage Sci-Fi whirlwind adventure. Don’t miss it Brisbane before it continues its tour!

TICKETS || Cremorne Theatre, QPAC in Brisbane
Playing now until 27 May

All images by David Kelly.