Audacious in its day (1955), Orson Welles’ flensed-to-the-bones adaptation of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is creaky now despite this production’s attempts to make it more reflective of our times.
Sport for Jove and director Adam Cook cut the picture out of the frame Welles devised for it. The published script of Moby Dick – Rehearsed begins with a group of actors filing into the theatre to perform Shakespeare’s King Lear.
In short, the company’s leading man insists they perform an impromptu Moby Dick instead, with him as Ahab. The backstage clutter is then pressed into service to create a makeshift Nantucket whaler.
This version treats us to something more like a standing start.
True, Welles’ play-within-a-play deceit is pretty old hat. But I left this production wondering if some more contemporary meta-theatrical device might have been created, something to give us a better sense of who these people are, why they are enacting this story now, and why we should watch them do it?
None of those questions was persuasively answered for me.
Ahab’s mission to destroy the great white whale keeps Cook’s company of 10 very busy for 80 minutes.
On the positive side of the ledger, Danny Adcock is a forceful Ahab: irascible when in a good mood; seething when not. Wendy Mocke brings gravitas, a strong voice and elements of her Papua New Guinean heritage to the role of harpooner Queeqeg. Tom Royce-Hampton whips up sturm und drang on a kit of Taiko drums when he’s not playing Ishmael (with a strong Irish brogue).
Elsewhere, actions are played with appropriate gusto but are clouded by posturing, showy delivery and overcooked emotion.
Creating a world from ladders, ropes and wooden stools is very part of Sport for Jove’s rough-and-ready aesthetic and it’s interesting to watch this diverse ensemble grapple with Melville’s leviathan. But in the end, this production doesn’t deliver the killer blow you expect.
Welles fans might do better to hit the couch: The Stranger and Touch of Evil have just been added to Netflix.