Fringe review: Moby Dick

This British stage adaptation of a literary classic has some up and down moments. ★★★ ½

Mar 03, 2020, updated Mar 03, 2020

British actor and writer Ross Ericson comes to Adelaide with impressive credentials. The Unknown Soldier, his play about the end of World War I, toured extensively around the UK and sold out at the Edinburgh Fringe before being performed in Australia and Hong Kong. His solo piece Gratiano, a sequel to Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, is included in this year’s Adelaide Fringe and has toured the Brighton, Edinburgh and Buxton Fringes, as well as the York International Shakespeare Festival. His list of successful shows goes back 10 years or more.

This play of Moby Dick was composed to celebrate the 200th anniversary of writer Herman Melville’s birth and made its debut at the Edinburgh Fringe in August 2019. It opens with a vibrant retelling of action at sea, and of Captain Ahab’s first encounter with the great whale – Moby Dick.

The pace and volume of this thunderous opening demands audience attention, before we settle into the tale of Ahab and his obsessive pursuit of the whale.

The key members of the crew are well drawn out in the script before the serious meat of the story begins. The best sections come when the mysterious Ahab enters and conversations between the characters begin. Ericson plays with different voices and the presentation comes to life.

The performer declaims the script rather than narrates it. There is much raised voice, even through the background stories of Starbuck and Queequeg and the others, making one wonder if this production was designed for a larger house than the Bakehouse Studio.

The set includes some packing crates, a stool, a lamp and a tankard. The stage is enclosed a little by a sail which frames Ericson in centre stage and limits his ability to move about. There were some rusty moments during this performance, with a number of slight hesitancies and even a few mistakes over which Ericson corrected himself. The overall impression was of a show that was having its first run for some time.

Ericson’s epilogue shows us that the original work of Herman Melville’s is no museum piece, but is relevant to contemporary issues. Ahab’s travails are a cautionary tale of humans involving themselves in places they should not go: namely, in disturbing the rhythm and balance of nature.

The lament of narrator and survivor Ishmael is that humans place themselves under the leadership of people who think but do not feel. We perhaps also are prone to placing ourselves under leaders who feel but do not think.

Grist To The Mill Productions is presenting Moby Dick at the Bakehouse Theatre again on March 6 and 11.

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