Sebastian Armesto’s Moby-Dick:
Have a whale of a time with this ripping sea yarn
Herman Melville’s Leviathan of a novel is a tempting adaptation challenge for any dramatist. Sebastian Armesto makes an impressive job of boiling down the sprawling tale of 19th-century whale hunting, groaning with endless digressions, to its essence. What remains is a taut and ripping sea yarn – which nevertheless hasn’t lost the sense of Melville’s epic quest for life’s meaning through the metaphors of whale lore and Captain Ahab’s fevered search for Moby-Dick.
Simple8 theatre company, an ensemble with a ‘poor theatre’ aesthetic that strives for sustainability, embraces the project with Boy’s Own brio. The cast fashions inventive sets – quayside pubs, the Pequod’s quarterdeck, the pitching whale boat – from detritus around the stage.
Simple touches are often enchanting, such as a driftwood whale outline, held up and articulated by the cast as Sargon Yelda’s earnest Ishmael describes the beast’s physiognomy. And Armesto’s pacy, well modulated production gains buoyancy from a sprinkling of authentic sea shanties and good lighting design from Sherry Coenen.
Leroy Osei-Bonsu’s cannibal harpooner Queequeg has a striking physicality; Nicholas Bishop’s troubled first mate, Starbuck, is an effectively brooding, and increasingly desperate, presentiment of disaster. But it’s Joseph Kloska’s performance as Ahab that has the greatest impact: he thoroughly captures the sense of the one-legged captain’s ferocious, gimlet-eyed madness, which calamitously resists all attempts to contain it.