by Darkstuff Productions
Adapted by Simon Harvey-Williams and Phil John
Having studied and lived in New Bedford, Massachusetts for almost 10 years, I can confirm that no-one can escape the presence of ’The White Whale’. So, being so personally invested in the history and immenseness of Moby Dick, I was very excited when I saw that Darkstuff Productions had decided to go whaling.
From first entering the space I was instantly part of the world of Moby Dick, from the sea-shanties echoing through the space, the quill pens and ink to sign the log, to the dimly-lit spaces dressed in hurricane lamps, rope and fishing nets and I was hooked immediately. We ordered our ‘Grog’ at the bar, and took the opportunity to travel around the space soaking up the incredible atmosphere created by the Darkstuff team. Any reservations I had about using a nightclub as a performance venue for this particular piece went up in a puff of whale-oil-lit-lamp-smoke.
Darkstuff’s production is a promenade performance and in my experience this can be problematic and stressful as an audience member. But I can honestly say this was the most effective and successful promenade performance I have ever had the pleasure to attend. All spaces were clearly identified and the audience were effectively ushered (either verbally or intuitively) around the space.
In Moby Dick the audience is not only a voyeur, but a willing participant. We simultaneously share the space and experience the Pequod along with the cast (and at times, even become part of the crew). This experience is richly embellished by the music and sounds provided by Rarg, whose work evocatively captures the sounds of a creaking boat at sea, a harpoon and rope whistling through air, tinkling clicks of a dolphin and the mournful cry of whale song.
To take on the adaptation of such an epic piece of literature (epic in size, journey and endurance) is no small feat. The writing team of Simon Harvey-Williams and Phil John condenses this huge narrative into just over 2 hours, and I offer my extensive congratulations to the pair for pulling it off so effectively. However, while the story is complete and hits all the essential landmarks, some of the heart of the story seems lost, particularly the bond between Queequeg and Ishmael. This by no means took away from my enjoyment of the production; however with such enormous potential for emotional engagement (with such an appropriate space, design, atmosphere and performances) it is a bit of a shame.
Direction by Anna Girvan and Nancy Medina de Mowbray is delicate and clever. Their use of objects to show action (tables manipulated by the cast and used to represent objects on deck, as well as nets to represent harpooning dories) and attention to detail (the wrapping of the boat-nets as the crew returns from harpooning, the net boat ‘capsizing’ by pulling the nets to the rocking of the sea) shows inventiveness and creativity while enforcing the constraints of the world of the Pequod.
Performances by all cast members are strong, with the interesting casting choice of women in traditionally male roles. Using a female actor to depict the chasm between the culture and race of the other characters is an interesting and effective choice. Zuleika Gregory’s Polynesian harpooner Queequeg, is steeped in stillness and strength while effectively capturing his good-natured laugh and spiritual core. And while I am happy to see another female casting with Jannah Warlow, whose business-like and unrevealing First Mate, Starbuck is perfectly- pitched, I have to question the significance in casting a female in this particular role. Was it to give a female actor a chance to participate or did it have some other purpose?
Adam Blake is the awkward and out-of-his-depth school-teacher-come-whaler, Ishmael and Jared Morgan’s Ahab is heard lumbering around the ship on his ‘ivory leg’ (ingeniously represented in this production) providing a menacing (yet not nearly oppressive enough) presence. But the show is stolen by John Winchester’s Stubbs, who engages (and even orders!) the audience around the space and through the action.
Darkstuff’s Moby Dick is huge accomplishment in the production and adaptation of a well-known classic and beloved novel. I thoroughly enjoyed it and was filled with nostalgia for my sea-side days in New Bedford.
I urge anyone who can to catch it before the Pequod takes her final voyage.
The show starts at 8.15 at the Bierkller in Bristol and is showing until the 19th of April.
17th April 2012