Ishmael - Dead Puppet Society

Modern take on epic tale to have world premiere at Brisbane Festival

When Brisbane Festival rolls into town in September, audiences will be invited to join the plight of a climate refugee and voyage to the outer solar system in ‘Ishmael’ – a modern take on Herman Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’.

This reimagining of a timeless novel for a new millennium, see’s the creative vision of the internationally acclaimed Dead Puppet Society (‘Laser Beak Man’, ‘Wider Earth’) come to life, melding captivating storytelling with live-action, live filmmaking, an original score and boundary-pushing visual theatre.

Three acclaimed Brisbane actors will tell this futuristic story, including Ellen Bailey who plays the title role of Ishmael, Barbara Lowing as Captain Ahab and Patrick Jhanur as Queequeg, an AI droid who has escaped from a laboratory.

Writer and Director David Morton said the genre-crossing ‘Ishmael’ played out like a film on stage, weaving in the elements of miniature sets, puppetry, a trio of live performers and an original score by indie-pop musician Bec Sandridge.

“The original ‘Moby Dick’ centred on humankind’s relationship with the natural world; Ishmael addresses what happens to the human motivators of greed and wealth when we’re in an environment that can no longer sustain them,” Morton said.

“Recasting Ishmael and Captain Ahab – two iconic characters from Western literature canon – as females to bring the story into the new millennium felt like too good an opportunity to pass up.

“They are both incredibly strong characters who embark on a literal journey of self-discovery, one with challenges and adventures that transcend gender. At its core, ‘Ishmael’ is a human story about personal redemption and the grace of humanity, told with hope and humour.”

Ishmael - Dead Puppet Society
Ishmael Development (Photography by Dean Hanson)

‘Ishmael’ is set in a not-too-distant future where the earth’s oceans have been recast as the vastness of space and the titular character as a young climate refugee grasping at the chance to build a new life for herself.  To survive their voyage to the outer solar system aboard the MV Pequod, Ishmael and the obsessive Captain Ahab must navigate the immensity of space and its endless possibilities and terrors.

Creative Producer Nicholas Paine said ‘Ishmael’ advanced Dead Puppet Society’s signature laser-cut artistry.

“This work will really blur the boundaries of what is considered a puppet,” Paine said.

“The biggest difference is rather than us playing with human or animal figures, we have built universes and worlds, miniaturised landscapes and fully-functioning spaceships. ‘Ishmael’ will have the theatrical sensibility of a space epic and be captivating to watch, not only for the story, but for how it is told.”

Ishmael Development (Photography by Dean Hanson)

Presented by Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC) and Dead Puppet Society, in association with Screen Queensland, ‘Ishmael’ will make its world premiere from 30 August to 11 September 2021 at the Cremorne Theatre. Minister for the Arts Leeanne Enoch said it was great that Queensland audiences would be the first to experience the imaginative, thought-provoking and captivating production from Brisbane’s own creative success story, Dead Puppet Society.

“’Ishmael’ is the latest work by Dead Puppet Society and represents a significant industry collaboration between this vibrant company, QPAC and Brisbane Festival,” Minister Enoch said.“

Featuring talented Queensland cast and creatives, state-of-the-art technology, brilliant puppetry and an outstanding original score, ‘Ishmael’, with its topical themes, inclusivity and humanity, has the makings of another hit. It’s great to see this production is back in the Festival program, after being postponed last year due to COVID.”

Brisbane Festival Artistic Director Louise Bezzina said the long-awaited international debut of Dead Puppet Society’s ‘Ishmael’ reinforced the Festival’s commitment to be boldly Brisbane.

“While COVID-19 affected our plans to deliver this incredible work to audiences in 2020, we’re thrilled to see it come to life as an exciting new project for this year’s Brisbane Festival,” Bezzina said.

“This production marks not only a wonderful opportunity to stage a world premiere in Brisbane, but also to celebrate a globally successful theatre company that started right here in Brisbane.

“’Ishmael’ is both timeless and contemporary; a relatable story with classic themes of redemption, determination and triumph of the human spirit that is reinvigorated and reimagined for a modern audience.”

The ‘Ishmael’ script was commissioned by the Dead Puppet Society, and the production has been commissioned by QPAC, Dead Puppet Society and Brisbane Festival in association with Screen Queensland.

Following its world premiere at Brisbane Festival from 30 August to 11 September, ‘Ishmael’ will play a season at Sydney Opera House in 2023.

‘Ishmael’ performs as part of the Brisbane Festival from 30 August to 11 September 2021. For tickets and production information, visit QPAC’s website. For further details on Brisbane Festival’s program, visit their website

Media Release supplied by QPAC. Image by Dean Hanson. 

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