Theatre review: Moby-Dick, Arcola, London
Friday 05 April 2013
Wittgenstein famously remarked that “If a lion could speak, we would not be able to understand him” (because, as a different form of life, he would play wholly distinct language games).
Now compare that insight with this celebrated passage in Melville's novel Moby-Dick about the contest between the eponymous creature and the Captain of the Pequod, who is obsessed to exclusion of all else with avenging himself for the loss of a leg. “He's a fury. He's an angel of hell. Why if the white whale could talk, he'd talk like Ahab”.
It's a terrifying statement because, if it anthropomorphises Moby-Dick, it also, to a degree, zoomorphises Ahab. It also indicates how this great book, on one level a mighty seafaring yarn, keeps going for broke in a metaphysical and metaphorical dimension in its depiction of the central battle of wills and of the collateral damage that causes amongst the rest of the crew.
This splendid new stage version, written and directed by Sebastian Armesto for simple8, finds the simplest and most imaginatively resourceful means to suggest the sheer span of a saga that takes us, at one end, into the innards of a whale's body for “the grail of the spermacetty” (the sac of oil at its purest) and the stars on the horizon at the other.
One hesitates to say, in this context, that Armesto has filleted the book well but that's just what he has done. In DIY poor theatre fashion, the male ensemble build the ship from bits of wood and with pieces of flotsam create the poetically evocative outline of a whale in the extraordinary scene of dissection.
With his manic glare, stiffly swivelling walk and constantly working mouth, Joseph Kloska's riveting Ahab manages to bring out the Captain's cracked charisma and put a touch of the “mental” into the notion of elemental.
Cameron Mackintosh had a notorious flop with a stage musical version, with Melville's story campily presented as a play at a girl's school, and there have reports that he is threatening to revive the piece on Broadway. Armesto's production resounds to beautifully harmonised and ravishing sea shanties that make one shiver at the danger and loneliness of the nautical life: “Only the Eskimo in his skin canoe/Knows the fate of Lord Franklin and his gallant crew”. In more ways than one, this Moby-Dick is a transporting experience.
To 4 May; 020 7503 1646
Art Somebody is going around telling people he's Banksy - but it isn't the street artist
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated
tvAn expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle
artLee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 The BBC has just done more to eradicate ‘terrorism’ than all our wars since 9/11
- 2 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 3 Mystery man who gave mum heart-warming note on train 'wanted to put a smile on her face'
- 4 Michelle Obama highlights harsh restrictions faced by Saudi women after meeting King Salman without wearing a headscarf
- 5 Grumpy Roald Dahl letter warning student to 'eschew beastly adjectives' rediscovered after 35 years
Game of Thrones season 5: Grey Worm actor Jacob Anderson is all for more male nudity – as long as it’s not him
Heavy metal producer's corpse to be mutilated by models as per his dying wish
The Jump 2015 line-up: Joey Essex, Phil Tufnell, Heather Mills and co take to the slopes
Costa Book Awards 2015: H is for Hawk named book of the year
New Ghostbusters movie lands all-female cast with Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures