by Sebastian Armesto adapted from the novel by Herman Melville.

Arcola Theatre 24 Ashwin Street E8 3DL To 4 May 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr One interval.

TICKETS: 020 7503 1646.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 8 April.

A surging ocean of ensemble theatre.
First a film; now a novel. Simple8 theatre love a challenge. They’re less free with Moby-Dick (even keeping the hyphen) than with The Cabinet of Dr Caligari recently at the Arcola. Though they have to omit and compress, they’ve caught the Whale essence.

From the rough harbour of Nantucket, evoked by swaying lanterns, where merchant seaman Ishmael is an outsider, to the decks of the Pequod (Herman Melville had a sure sense of odd, resonant names) built onstage, the whaler’s world is vividly created. Similarly, their songs give rhythmic support to labour or group cohesion in a storm.

Active group scenes alternate slow, quiet ones, with more subdued lighting. Such quiet prepares for Polynesian Queequeg’s entry to the bed he shares with Ishmael, to the shock of both. And for the delayed appearance of Ahab, the captain obsessed by white whale Moby-Dick.

If, as Karl Marx claimed, history occurs first as tragedy then farce, Peter Pan’s Captain Hook is the farcical turn of a character mutilated by a water-dwelling creature. Ahab, half a leg torn-off by Moby-Dick, is a tragic figure. Joseph Kloska progressively reveals madness born of obsession and the denial of Ahab’s own destructive nature by projecting it on the creature whose rampages are natural and defensive.

Heard before he’s seen, stump clomping at night, Ahab’s first viewed as a face in the flare of a pipe-lighting match – about the only contrived-seeming image in Sebastian Armesto’s detailed, energetic production. When he appears by daylight, Kloska is quiet-spoken, reasonable, a leader who makes a team of his men. But as his ever-chewing, head-turning abstracted manner continues it’s evident he’s manipulating them into the conspiracy of a search and destroy mission against the white whale, rather than acquiring whale-oil for commercial profit.

Leroy Osei-Bonsu’s Queequeg has the concentration of a skilled professional in the harpooning sequence, Nicholas Bishop contrasts Ahab as the rational Starbuck, and Sargon Yelda inhabits a saner world as narrator in a cast that contribute individually to this rich mix of script and physicality. But it’s Kloska’s physically restrained, clearly driven Ahab that’s the play’s mainstay.

Mariner/Peleg/Booomer/Gardiner: Oliver Birch.
Starbuck:: Nicholas Bishop.
Peter Coffin/Bildad/Grizzly Manxman: David Brett.
Elijah/Flask: Christopher Doyle.
Ahab: Joseph Kloska.
Queequeg: Leroy Osei-Bonsu.
Stubb: Mat Wandless.
Ishmael: Sargon Yelda.

Director: Sebastian Armesto.
Designer: Simon Allison, Sebastian Armesto.
Lighting: Sherry Coenen.
Music: David Brett, Hannah Emmanuel.
Voice/Dialect: Richard Ryder.

2013-04-09 12:56:35

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