Press Releases

12.13 Under the Whaleback

January, 2013
Contact: Johnny Van Heest, Public Relations Manager
215.893.9456 ext. 102 |


The Wilma Theater presents the North American Premiere of Under the Whaleback
Maritime theatricality, larger-than-life heroics, and unrestrained dark comedy illustrate one of the world’s most dangerous occupations

March 6 – April 7, 2013

 PHILADELPHIA – The Wilma Theater is proud to present the North American premiere of Under the Whaleback by celebrated British playwright Richard Bean, directed by the Wilma’s Founding Artistic Director, Blanka Zizka. Audiences will experience a thrilling nautical narrative, acclaimed by London’s Daily Telegraph as “Savagely Funny!” In the Wilma’s production, the dangerous occupation of North Sea fishing is exhibited on a large sidewinder trawler fishing vessel, designed for the Wilma’s stage by Matt Saunders. American audiences were recently introduced to playwright Richard Bean when his West End comic phenomenon, One Man, Two Guvnors, moved to Broadway in 2012 and won a Tony® Award for Best Actor in a Play. Under the Whaleback begins previews on Wednesday, March 6, 2013; opens on Wednesday, March 13, 2013; and closes on Sunday, April 7, 2013.

Critics and members of the press are invited to attend Press Night on Wednesday March 13, 2013, at 7:30pm. For ticket arrangements, contact Johnny Van Heest at or 215.893.9456 x102.

The year is 1965. Aboard the Kingston Jet docked in Hull, England, a new teenage sailor Daz receives shocking information about his lineage from a legendary deckhand. Flash forward to 1972. A violent storm off the Icelandic coast thrashes the James Joyce and its crew of merchant fishermen, including Daz, with fatal consequences. Flash forward again to 2002. Daz is now 54, a father, and the curator of the Arctic Kestrel museum ship. A mysterious stranger unexpectedly enters after hours, making furious accusations and playing a dangerous game. Connecting three riveting snapshots of time with stunning twists, Under the Whaleback depicts one of the most dangerous occupations in the world with maritime theatricality, larger-than-life heroics, and unrestrained dark comedy.

To prepare for the production, director Blanka Zizka traveled to England, met with playwright Richard Bean, and visited the town of Hull, where she interviewed fishermen and their wives. Blanka documented her entire trip through journals, pictures, and interviews, which will be published at

About her trip and the production, Blanka Zizka says, “While talking to Hull’s retired fishermen, I noticed right away the dark humor that Richard Bean captures in the play. When at sea Bean’s fishermen, isolated from the rest of the population, can be brutish, crude, and hilariously funny, but they are also surprisingly brittle, revealing a deep despair as they crack under pressure. My hosts in Hull showed me many photographs from the ’60s and ’70s demonstrating a vibrant life at the docks – to walk there now all you see are crumbling buildings with broken windows - a distant memory of a once lucrative industry.”

Production History
Under the Whaleback premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in London in April 2003. It won the George Devine Award in 2002 for Best New Play. The play also received a production at Hull Truck, in Hull, England, as well as an international production in Australia.

About the Playwright
Richard Bean
was born in East Hull in 1956. After graduating school, he worked in a bread factory before leaving to study Psychology at Loughborough University. Richard has worked as a psychologist and a stand-up comedian. He was awarded the 2011 Evening Standard Award for Best Play for The Heretic and One Man, Two Guvnors. He also won the 2011 Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play and 2012 Award for Best New Comedy, both for One Man, Two Guvnors. His work for the stage includes One Man, Two Guvnors (National Theatre, Lyttelton/Adelphi Theatre/Theatre Royal Haymarket/Music Box Theatre, New York/World Tour); a stage version of David Mamet’s The House of Games (Almeida); The Big Fellah (produced by Out of Joint); team writer of Jack and the Beanstalk (Lyric Hammersmith); Pub Quiz is Life (Hull Truck); England People Very Nice (National Theatre, Olivier;  Olivier Award Nomination for Best New Play); The English Game (produced by Headlong); Up On Roof (Hull Truck;  nominated for TMA Play of the Year); In The Club (Hampstead Theatre); a version of Moliere’s The Hypochondriac (Almeida); The Heretic, Harvest (nominated for Evening Standard and Olivier Best New Play Awards;  winner Critics’ Circle Best New Play), Honeymoon Suite (Pearson Play of the Year), Under The Whaleback (George Devine Award) and Toast (all at the Royal Court); The God Botherers (Bush Theatre); Smack Family Robinson (Newcastle Live!); The Mentalists (Lyttelton Loft, National Theatre); and Mr. England (Sheffield Crucible Theatre). His radio plays include Of Rats and Men; Yesterday; Unsinkable; and Robin Hood’s Revenge.

About the Director
Blanka Zizka has been Founding Artistic Director of The Wilma Theater since 1981. In the fall of 2011, Blanka received the Zelda Fichandler Award from the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation, which recognizes an outstanding director or choreographer transforming the regional arts landscape. Most recently, Blanka directed Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Tadeusz Słobodzianek’s Our Class, Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room, which received eight Barrymore awards, and Macbeth, which included an original score by Czech composer and percussionist Pavel Fajt. Blanka has directed over 60 plays and musicals at the Wilma. Her recent favorite productions are Wajdi Mouawad’s Scorched, Tom Stoppard’s Rock ’n’ Roll, Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice (which featured an original score by composer Toby Twining, now available from Cantaloupe Records), Brecht’s The Life of Galileo, Athol Fugard’s Coming Home and My Children! My Africa!, and Caryl Churchill’s Cloud 9.  She collaborated closely with Dael Orlandersmith on her plays Raw Boys and Yellowman, which was co-produced by McCarter Theatre and the Wilma and also performed at ACT Seattle, Long Wharf, and Manhattan Theatre Club. Blanka was also privileged to direct Rosemary Harris and John Cullum in Ariel Dorfman’s The Other Side at MTC. For the Academy of Vocal Arts, she directed the opera Kát’a Kabanová by Leoš Janácek. She has collaborated with many playwrights including Yussef El Guindi, Doug Wright, Sarah Ruhl, Tom Stoppard, Linda Griffiths, Polly Pen, Dael Orlandersmith, Laurence Klavan, Lillian Groag, Jason Sherman, Amy Freed, Robert Sherwood, and Chay Yew. Her favorite productions are, even after all these years, Tom Stoppard’s The Invention of Love and Jim Cartwright’s Road.

About the Cast and Design Team
Under the Whaleback features a local cast of returning favorites as well as newcomers to the Wilma’s stage. The Wilma is pleased to welcome the return of Ross Beschler (Our Class), Keith Conallen (Curse of the Starving Class), Ed Swidey (Curse of the Starving Class, Our Class, Macbeth), and H. Michael Walls (Leaving, Invention of Love, Road, and Amadeus). Pearce Bunting is returning to the Wilma after 18 years, having appeared in Quartet and Road, both directed by Blanka Zizka.  Brian Ratcliffe is making his first appearance at the Wilma along with 11 year-old Gaby Bradbury, who has appeared in a number of roles throughout Philadelphia. 

The set for Under the Whaleback is designed by Matt Saunders, who designed the set for the Wilma’s recent hit Angels in America as well as Curse of the Starving Class. Costumes are designed by Oana Botez, who most recently designed for Angels in America, Our Class, In the Next Room, or the vibrator play, and Macbeth. Lighting is designed by Allen Hahn and original music and sound is composed by Daniel Perelstein, who designed for the Wilma’s production of Our Class and Macbeth.

Special Events
A number of special, behind-the-scenes Onstage Conversations will accompany the production and provide audiences with the opportunity to engage with the artistic staff of the Wilma.

Onstage Conversation
Thursday, March 14, 2013
Stay after the performance to discuss the play with a member of the Wilma's artistic staff.

Onstage Conversation ­
Thursday, March 21, 2013

Stay after the performance to discuss the play with the cast.

Young Friends Evening
Friday, March 29, 2013

Join us for a complimentary pre-show reception for audience members age 35 and under.

Onstage Conversation
Wednesday, April 3, 2013, immediately following the matinee

Stay after the matinee performance to discuss the play with a member of the Wilma's artistic staff in the lobby with complimentary coffee.                          

Tria Pre-Show Wine Tasting    
Friday, April 5, 2013

Join us for a complimentary, pre-show wine tasting in our lobby from 7 8pm sponsored by Tria.


Tickets range from $39 to $66, and are available at the Wilma’s Box Office by calling 215.546.7824, visiting, or coming to the theater, located at 265 South Broad Street in Philadelphia. Discounted ticket options are available for students, groups, or anyone in their 20s. Information on discounts is available at

The Doubletree Hotel, FISH Restaurant, and The Sporting Club at The Bellevue are the Season Sponsors for The Wilma Theater’s 2012/2013 Season.