It’s always challenging holding a play where most of the audience has a pretty good idea of where the story is heading. Maybe you read Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” in high school or university, or you feel like you should have read it. Either way, there are so many film, TV and print references to it, you wouldn’t be the first to feel like you know all of the plot highlights, even if you never made it past an Amazon.com synopsis.
That said, the Seymour Centre’s revival is based on Orson Welles’ 1955 script, with which the radio, theatre and film great devised to make the familiar tome fresh again (the production was also filmed and lost in a fire, but that’s a story for another day). A big part of Welles’ approach was to have a minimal stage setting, and director Adam Cook maintains that spirit with his bare-bones stage of wood decking, barn-sized doors and a chorus of ladders.
In a way the four wooden ladders are one of the stars of the production. They are constant scaled and scurried down by the actors, and double as props for Captain Ahab’s ship when the whale hunt goes into action. It’s at these times that Moby Dick is at its most thrilling, the drama further elevated by the pounding bass drums by Tom Royce-Hampton as Ishmael. Actors surf atop the ladders, held aloft by other crew members, and point spears straight at the audience or launch them at another, to heart-jolting effect. It’s almost as if the audience is the whale, staring straight into the eyes of its pursuers.
This is a dialogue-heavy play, which can bog it down at times, especially with central figure Ishmael’s thick Irish brogue and the other accents of this ragtag bunch of global seafarers (including a notable, welcome update of sea-women). But that all falls away as soon as Danny Adcock takes centre stage as Captain Ahab, looking like a dark-side Yoda in his brown robe and whale-bone peg leg. His shaking, maddening and distraught Ahab is an astonishing performance, and he projects every notch of increasing tension and pain. The suspense builds and builds, hurtling towards the emotional car crash when the Captain will explode with fury. You know he’s going to break, yet waiting for that eruption – foretold by piercing steely eyes and snarled teeth – is pure pleasure. Adcock’s fearsome gnashing is enough to give Hannibal Lecter a run for his money. By the time a crew member shouts out “There She Blows!” it’s enough to make one feel as if you’ve heard that famous line for the very first time.
Moby Dick will have its final performances tonight (Friday 24 August) and tomorrow night (Saturday 25 August) at the Seymour Centre, corner of Cleveland Street and City Road, Chippendale. Adult tickets are $45. For details, visit >>