Tag Archives: Ben Howarth

Moby Dick

★★★★★

Jack Studio Theatre

Moby Dick

Moby Dick

 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

 


Moby Dick

 Jack Studio Theatre until 26th October

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Sweet Like Chocolate Boy | ★★★★★ | November 2018
Cinderella | ★★★ | December 2018
Gentleman Jack | ★★★★ | January 2019
Taro | ★★★½ | January 2019
As A Man Grows Younger | ★★★ | February 2019
Footfalls And Play | ★★★★★ | February 2019
King Lear | ★★★ | March 2019
The Silence Of Snow | ★★★ | March 2019
Queen Of The Mist | ★★★½ | April 2019
The Strange Case Of Jekyll & Hyde | ★★★★★ | September 2019

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

The Fatal Eggs

The Fatal Eggs
★★★★★

Barons Court Theatre

The Fatal Eggs

The Fatal Eggs

Barons Court Theatre

Reviewed – 11th April 2019

★★★★★

 

“Douglas Baker’s adaptation illuminates and derides at the same time with a wild sense of invention, fun and some beautifully designed projections”

 

When Persikov, a zoologist, accidentally discovers evidence of a ‘life ray’ that accelerates growth in amoebas, the state and media pounce on its implications for productivity, technological mastery and beyond. Before the baffled boffin can comprehend his own work, government scientists commandeer his ray to replenish state chicken supplies following a poultry plague. Anxious of the consequences, Persikov orders snake eggs for further experiments but, inevitably, reptilian and avian ova go to the wrong addresses and proliferating snakes threaten to engulf the city.

If Mikhail Bulgakov’s science fiction satire ever becomes a set text, students can save themselves swotting by attending this multimedia and movement piece by So It Goes Theatre. With dazzling lightness of touch it communicates not only the tale itself but also the writer’s struggles with authority, his writing style, the troubled gestation of the novel itself, plus a good deal of the 1920s context including the objects of the work’s satire – the Bolshevik state’s obsession with technology and the infantilising role of the media. Douglas Baker’s adaptation illuminates and derides at the same time with a wild sense of invention, fun and some beautifully designed projections.

Although published in 1924, when threats from powerful new technologies were top of mind, no effort is needed to make the subject relevant to today. Thankfully, none is made; Douglas Baker’s direction revels in clunky Soviet lab equipment, clothing and the use of archaic maps and scientific illustrations in the animations (provided by Baker himself). The lush audio-visual treatment combines well with movement sequences (Matthew Coulton), most notably where Bulgakov hammers out his provocative masterpiece alongside his creation, Persikov, working at his microscope. It’s an artful sequence that shows how, for some, the consequences of artistic expression can be as dangerous as technological discovery.

Alex Chard is a distinguished Bulgakov, capturing with angsty conviction the author in the midst of creation. In a simple but effective portrayal, Lucie Regan imbues Persikov with the bland bewilderment of a scientist encountering the real world. Alongside them, Ben Howarth and Fiona Kelly are able and engaging as they fill in the other characters and narrate. Together, they form a disparate quartet of styles that interlock serious and comic, period and modern, biography and fiction, science and art, hilarity and horror. Add in vivid moments of sound design from Richard Kerry and you have a mock-earnest parable on the perils of progress, luminously adapted, elaborately performed and enjoyable on each if its many layers.

 

Reviewed by Dominic Gettins

Photography by Carl Fletcher

 


The Fatal Eggs

Barons Court Theatre until 27th April

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
The Big Things | ★★½ | April 2018
Owls | ★★★ | July 2018
Sex Magick | ★★★ | October 2018

 

Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com