• Theatre
  • Off-West End
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There’s always a problem with earnest actors playing leather-skinned sea dogs. But that hasn’t discouraged Simple8 in their maritime main house follow-up to Arcola studio hit ‘The Cabinet of Dr Caligari’.

'Moby-Dick' is an avowedly butch physical theatre rendition of Herman Melville’s ocean-going classic about the notorious Captain Ahab, who is intent on tracking down and killing the titular whale that bit off his leg. Not only is the notoriously impenetrable book a proto-Hemingway documentation of the brute reality of seafaring – it’s also a formidable existential allegory of fear and fixation.

Crediting himself as writing rather than simply adapting, Sebastian Armesto does a good job of gutting the walloping saga and serving a two-hour alternative that’s respectful to Melville’s original. The language is muscular and terse, while Ahab’s big speech about who or what drives him on is vivid and profound. Nor is the staging any less macho. Punctuated with sea shanties, it uses self-assembly driftwood to recreate a quayside inn, the Pequod whaling ship and a good-sized sperm whale. Sherry Coenen’s murky lighting is broodingly melodramatic, offsetting wind machines’ sheet metal thunder and primal blasts on a sawn-off didgeridoo.

The ensemble acting too is steely and committed, even if there is a whiff of moisturising cream among the Pequod’s salty crew. Their integration and teamwork is nowhere more vividly harnessed than when the sailors pull oars together through lurching waves to make their killings.

Sargon Yelda as Ishmael the schoolteacher who seeks adventure on the high seas is a fine everyman narrator, with bell-like diction, and Joseph Kloska’s young, fresh-faced Ahab is nevertheless a deliberate, beady-eyed creation with a long theatrical sniff and a jaw that jogs with his thoughts. The result sheds little new light on a well-worn book, but does it good theatrical service. Patrick Marmion

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