Jack Studio Theatre
Reviewed – 10th October 2019
“Technically slick, the lighting, sound, music and movement coalesce to create a West End experience in miniature”
When Ishmael arrives at ‘The Spouter’ run by Peter Coffin, it’s clear Moby Dick’s author, Herman Melville, loves an ominous portent, so he would have loved the fact that the opening week of Douglas Baker’s stage adaptation started with a dead humpback in the Thames. However, with humanity’s disregard for nature a central theme of both the book and this radical new envisioning, Melville would have seen the current climate change protests as just as relevant and a dark testament to his prophetic work.
Rather like Theatre Workshop’s ‘Oh! What a Lovely War’, the full throttle irreverence in the treatment of a deadly serious subject is a powerfully winning formula for this ‘So it Goes Theatre’ production. Accentuating the homoerotic undercurrents and humour of the original while modernising its scope to encompass the problems of junk food, plastic waste and reckless corporate behaviour, the show miraculously manages not only to remain faithful to the essence of this literary leviathan, but to make it fresh and accessible though the inventive use of projections, Baker’s own video design and some corking sea shanties (Alex Chard).
It’s not immediately clear that the approach will hold water. The opening sketch leading to the book’s iconic first line ‘Call me Ishmael’, is inspired, but seems to be based on the trivial fact that Starbucks derived its name (fairly randomly) from the Pequod’s first mate. However, the storyline cleverly pivots into Ishmael’s meditation that whenever life becomes formless and incomprehensible on land he hankers for the sea, where a sense of comradeship, structure and purpose creates, paradoxically, more certainty. Which is all fine until Captain Ahab’s obsession with the great white whale increasingly becomes a madness that embraces murder and waste without conscience.
Charlie Tantam conveys Ahab’s destructive will with increasing force, assisted by a terrifyingly exaggerated limp. Equally accomplished are Rob Peacock as Old Ishmael and Ben Howarth as Young Ishmael; collectively they comprise an ingenious narrative tool allowing the book’s narrator voice to survive alongside the thrill of the protagonist’s journey. Stephen Erhirhi is a distant and disengaged Queequeg at first, though his detachment takes on heavy significance later as he accepts the fate that the humanity of which he is a part has in store. Lucianne Regan plays Starbuck fairly straight too, but as an ensemble they are well balanced and create the movement of the ship in a storm and the hunting scenes with great skill. Technically slick, the lighting (Toby Smith), sound (Calum Perrin), music (Richard Kerry) and movement (Matthew Coulton) coalesce to create a West End experience in miniature, overseen by Douglas Baker’s direction. This format for Moby Dick neutralises the dense 19th Century prose without losing some of its finer passages, whilst delivering quite the topical punch.
Reviewed by Dominic Gettins
Photography by Carl Fletcher
Jack Studio Theatre until 26th October
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: