“Thar she blows!” shouts one of the crew members of the whaling ship the Pequod in Herman Melville’s 19th century novel Moby-Dick. You might say the same about Simple8’s bold and brilliant stage adaptation. Transferring Melville’s text, set mainly on a ship and featuring a huge whale, onto the stage is no mean feat. And yet, with astonishing nous and a keen sense of timing, the company master the story, injecting this classic tale with a huge amount of charm and energy.
After a misguided meta-theatrical prologue, where the actors wander on stage and clear up, ready for the performance, our smiling narrator Ishmael (Sargon Yelda) introduces himself to us, as he does in the famous first line of the book. After the slightly jarring beginning and with Ishmael as our guide, the show only gets better. Ishmael embarks on his adventures with his new found friend, the ‘cannibal’ Queequeg, played with a slow grace by Leroy Osei-Bonsu. After joining the crew of the Pequod, they are at the mercy of its captain – Ahab (Joseph Kloska) – who persuades them all to join him in his quest to track down the cursed white sperm whale Moby-Dick.
Kloska’s Ahab is mad and bad and intent on his prize – the beast that robbed him of his leg. But the speeches he gives to his awestruck crew betray him as someone whose demons are of his own creation. The legend, and fear, of Moby-Dick has been perpetuated by this obsessed and angry captain, and will lead him and his crew to their demise. We see that his irrational anthropomorphising of the animal, which is drawn as a thing deliberately intent on harming ships, can only end badly. As in the book, the battle is symbolic: Man is his own worst enemy.
Surprisingly, the famously long and somewhat dry educational sections about whales in the novel are not ignored. In the play, Ishmael is a teacher who gets away from an adventure-less job by taking to the sea. It makes sense, therefore, that at one point Ishmael grabs a pointer stick and, as the ensemble create the outline of a whale from bits of wood, moving it slowly as if it were alive, Ishmael points to the relevant parts, explaining the beast as he goes. Rather than being a drag, it’s highly informative.
This is a talented and resourceful ensemble who rely on bits of ladders, floorboards and lamps as their set. A word must be said, though, for Kloska’s superb portrayal of Ahab: his twisted, neurotic and unpredictable demeanour never once lets up. The script is well crafted, turning the dated but nonetheless adventure-filled novel, into an accessible show, full of the story’s original poetry. This is two hours of immensely entertaining theatre, complete with gold doubloons, sea shanties and rum.
Daisy Bowie-Sell, 19th April 2013