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Moby Dick

June 11th - June 15th

SWASHBUCKLING NEW ADAPTATION OF MELVILLE’S CLASSIC ADVENTURE

With sea shanties played live on stage

 “There she blows!”

October, 1839. The Pequod is due to sail out of Nantucket and her skipper, one Captain Ahab, is in need of a crew. Seeking fortune and adventure, a humble schoolmaster named Ishmael ships aboard, joining a company charged with one task: to wreak revenge on the white whale that lost Ahab his leg – the infamous Moby-Dick.

Melville’s wild seafaring adventure will be brought vividly to life by the award-winning Simple8, in a fun, fast and joyous production that transports you right to the heart of the hunt for the most famous whale on earth.

★★★★★ ‘A company possessing the skills, dedication and intelligence to create wonder’ The Times

Winner of the Peter Brook Ensemble Award and the WhatsOnStage Best Ensemble Award

Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes (including interval)

 

Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan


ACCESS PERFORMANCE:

The performance on Wednesday 12th June at 2.30pm will be Audio Described.

There will also be a touch tour prior to this performance at 12.30pm.

Advanced booking is essential. Please contact the Box Office on 01684 892277 to book, or contact Toby Burchell (Tobyb@malvern-theatres.co.uk/01684 580939) for more information.


Details

Start:
June 11th
End:
June 15th
Event Categories:
, , , ,

Venue

Festival Theatre
Grange Road
Malvern, WR14 3HB

Other

Price:
Tues Eve & Wed Mat: £28.56 £26.32 £24.08 £21.84 £19.60
Wed-Thurs Eves & Sat Mat: £36.40 £34.16 £31.92 £29.68 £27.44
Fri & Sat Eves: £38.64 £36.40 £34.16 £31.92 £29.68
£2 concessions over 60s /unwaged/under 26s
Under 16s All Seats £16.80
Members Discounts Apply
Prices include 12% booking fee
Show Times:
Tuesday 11th to Saturday 15th June
Evenings at 7.30pm; Wednesday & Saturday Matinees at 2.30pm

Event Reviews

  • The View From The Stalls

    A riveting and inventive staging of the classic book

    Running at more than 500 pages, adapting Herman Melville’s Moby Dick for the stage must have been quite an undertaking. This new adaptation by Sebastian Armesto, staged by the Simple8 theatre ensemble, condenses the story to a show containing all of the key elements into less than two hours.

    Melville’s book is based on real life events of himself being a sailor in the 1840s and the actual demise of the whaling ship Essex in 1820 during the search for the notoriously hard-to-catch albino whale Mocha Dick. In terms of Moby Dick, there is just one survivor of the whaling ship Pequod captained by Ahab, who is out for revenge after losing a limb in a previous encounter. This allows for a perfect piece of casting for Guy Rhys. The sole survivor of the Pequod’s ill-fated journey is the novice deckhand Ishmael (Mark Arends) who becomes the story’s narrator and who teams up with the somewhat mysterious yet gentle and more knowledgeable Queequeg (Tom Swale) as they battle against the elements and against the will of the captain who is determined at all costs and in all weathers to kill the wretched mammal that took his leg.

    It is by no means a standard adaptation either. The staging leaves a lot to the imagination and the sense of being at sea is heightened by a series of sea shanties along with musical accompaniment throughout. Initially on stage there are just two sets of scaffolding and four steps leading to a raised stage. During the show, this is made full use of with other simple elements introduced to reflect the action such as makeshift rowing boats and the grisly cutting up of their first kill. Most brilliant of all is the actual re-creation on stage of a whale – simply but very cleverly done, involving the entire cast and giving us a biology lesson to boot!

    If you think that the novel itself, which was actually a commercial failure when first published, will lead to a complicated long stage play, think again. The way it has been adapted not only conveys the story of this whaling adventure but also brings the audience right to the heart of what it must have been like to have been a sailor in those arduous times with Ishmael’s direct to the audience narration making it feel personal and believable.

  • StageTalk Magazine - Tony Clarke

    Theatre company Simple8 have a proven track record of producing innovative, bold new plays from classic stories; their take on Herman Melville’s acclaimed 1851 novel adds a fresh perspective on a classic, much-loved tale through a swashbuckling and dynamic ensemble performance.

    The story of Moby Dick is narrated by Ishmael, a former teacher who embarks on a high seas adventure on board a Nantucket whaling ship captained by the mysterious, one-legged Captain Ahab, who himself is looking to wreak revenge on the eponymous sperm whale who robbed him of his left leg in a previous encounter. What ensues is a thrilling and climactic chase which has become one of the greatest novels in American literature. DH Lawrence, no less, described it as “the greatest book of the sea ever written.”

    In transferring such an ambitious novel to the stage, adaptor Sebastian Armesto has aimed for a stripped back approach, to explore, as he says, “an industry that ravaged the very thing that sustained it”, as well as to examine humankind’s hubristic battle with the powers of nature. His employment of Jerzy Grotowski’s ‘poor theatre’ philosophy means everything which is not essential to the performance is minimised, or eliminated altogether, allowing us to focus more simply on the actors and their story. Whale-hunting proliferated in the 1800s, driving several species to the brink of extinction: their scarcity is perhaps reflected in the frugal but functional staging of this production.

    A talented cast of actor-musicians combines to retell Melville’s allegorical tale with enthusiasm and skill, led by the impressive Guy Rhys as the enigmatic Ahab, but supported ably by a ‘crew’ of eight who inject energy and pace into this simple but captivating narrative. Music, in some form, is ever-present, either on or off-stage: the musicians successfully blend traditional sea shanties which capture the rollicking camaraderie of life on board Ahab’s ship, the Pequod, with more sinister and menacing whale music; the latter serves to help ramp up the tension in a more gripping second act as the chase nears its dramatic denouement. Clever use is made of a range of simple props – barrels, bones and bloodied fabrics suggest the visceral nature of this barbaric industry; the Pequod is suggested rather than presented, but why not, when a few scaffolding planks, poles and some ropes can easily convey a whaling ship? What’s more, other ‘props’ are purely the product of our imagination – harpoons, skiffs, oars, weapons…..even the whales themselves. And yet none of this detracts from the story. Moreover, it enhances it. We are given all we need on stage – our imagination does the rest.

    Director Jesse Jones’ minimalist production is greatly supported by Kate Bunce’s simple but effective design, whereas Johanna Town’s clever lighting, including a shocking but powerful use of red at one point, is one of the show’s many strengths. A couple of the musical numbers perhaps needed a little more polish on the timing, and not all of the cast were able to project their voice with sufficient power and clarity. Nonetheless, the show rises successfully to the challenge of presenting a new interpretation of an elemental and timeless tale, stripping it back to the bare bones – or should that be bare whalebones? – without losing any of the original story’s cautionary power or moral message. I was hooked.

  • Showtime! John Phillpott

    Call me Ishmael. How those opening words to Herman Melville’s epic tale resonate down the ages.

    I first encountered the great white whale when, as a small child, my mother took me to the Granada cinema in my hometown of Rugby to see the classic film version, starring Gregory Peck.

    Later came the novel itself, and in recent times, the fascination and interest has been rekindled by the book In the Heart of the Sea, which is the true account of the sinking of a ship by a large whale.

    It was this mid-19th century incident that provided the inspiration for Melville’s maritime masterpiece.

    Simple8 is a critically acclaimed theatre company and I’m very happy to report that they do the story more than proud. Using a minimalist set, this supremely talented ensemble quickly sets the scene as Ishmael (Mark Arends) joins the crew of the ill-fated whaling ship Pequod.

    Ishmael is a Nantucket schoolmaster in search of adventure who, like Moby Dick himself, has probably bitten off more than he can chew, in the case of the latter this being Captain Ahab’s left leg.

    Ishmael’s first shock is provided by the discovery that his bed in a Nantucket tavern has also been leased by the landlord to Queequeg, a Native American who does a nice – or rather, not all that nice, neither very encouraging – line in doom and despondency.

    Queequeg, played with much furrowed brow by Tom Swale, has got this hunch that the impending voyage is not going to end well. He could well be right.

    And so, the drama quickly builds. Because of the sparse set, and demands of the story, much is expected of the audience to get the feel of life aboard ship.

    But this is soon achieved as we mentally turn the capstan, hoist the davit tackles, unfurl the spanker and set the keel stones.

    Impressed with the terminology? I thought you would be. Oh yes, those of us in the fo’c’stle are soon looking lively. Fo’c’stle? That’s sea-speak for ‘forecastle’ by the way, all you landlubbers in landlocked Worcestershire and elsewhere.

    Of course, lacking a leg that has been lost to Moby’s molars, Ahab would these days be in dire need of counselling. Glass of rum half empty, glass of rum half full… what will it be, cap’n?

    Half empty, you scurvy dogs! For our vengeful seafarer is hell-bent on settling the score with his cetacean nemesis. And in the process, he humanises and demonises the giant mammal, whose only crime is that he presumably never wanted to slowly die full of harpoons like some enormous chipolata sausage in some gruesome oceanic buffet.

    However, some of the crew have concerns about the captain’s obsession with Moby Dick. Even the usually loyal Starbuck (Hannah Emanuel) feels obliged to remind Ahab that the purpose the Pequod’s voyage is to catch whales, not settle scores with a creature that would presumably rather be left alone to enjoy his daily meal of several tons of krill.

    But it makes no difference. What Ahab wants Ahab gets. Or will he?

    In many ways, the story is a metaphor for Mankind’s abuse of the natural world, something that depressingly continues to the present day. The era of whaling, when most of the world was lit by spermaceti oil, pushed some species to the brink of extinction.

    Simple8 has done a magnificent job with this production, thanks to a talented cast, smoothly directed with great style and pace by Jesse Jones, who makes the most of Sebastian Armesto’s skilful adaptation.

    The music also plays a key part in ushering along the progress of the Pequod, and keeps the audience entertained with a selection of seafaring tunes, shanties and the other work songs that helped to provide the necessary rhythms required by sailors to perform their daily tasks during the age of sail.

    These interludes are particularly effective in conjuring up images of what life must have been like for men entombed between wooden walls during voyages that could last up to three years and even more.

    Simple8 should congratulate themselves with this production. I hope to see them at Malvern again soon.

  • Weekend Notes - Alison Brinkworth

    You could almost taste the saltwater of the ocean in this new visceral production of Moby Dick. The iconic story has been recreated by Simple 8 theatre company and I caught its UK tour at Malvern Theatres, where it stays until Saturday, June 15.

    There's a stark stage with scaffolding dismantled on the floor as it opens with that infamous line 'Call me Ishmael'. Soon the set will cleverly be transformed to loosely resemble the Pequod ship's hull for the doomed journey to the high seas with whalers confounded by the great white whale Moby Dick.

    There will be plenty more delightful creativity to come including recreating the shape of a whale using pieces of wood, as shown below. Lanterns and candles flicker adding moodiness and unease to Herman Melville's famous tale.

    What makes this new production different is that it's gently musical too, but in a very natural and fitting way. There are actors playing instruments and singing melancholy, soulful sea shanties. Violins, drums and percussion add a subtle, soothing soundtrack.

    Simple8, which has produced this show with Royal and Derngate Northampton, has already won a smattering of awards for its creativity and skill to reimagine "worlds out of nothing". The theatre company has become a force to be reckoned with in using live music, songs, puppetry and mime and this new version of Moby Dick reinforces the crew's inventiveness.

    It's a fairly long time before Captain Ahab appears and he's ominously heard before he's seen. The one-legged protagonist, chasing revenge for losing his limb to Moby Dick, is believably haunted in the performance by Guy Rhys.

    Mark Arends is suitably nervy as Ishmael with Hannah Emanuel giving a sterling performance as reliable Starbuck. The play has a decent tempo to start with as characters develop clearly.

    The finale before the interval is particularly good as the crew rows out to catch a whale. It's interesting how views will have changed since this book was written in 1951 and rather than feeling in awe of the mammal being caught, the symbolic scenes feel horrific, especially as blood red confetti scatters across the stage.

    After the interval, the story feels much slower and could have been done with an uplift to the tempo. The fear on board isn't as heightened as it could be and Ahab doesn't seem quite tormented or obsessed enough with his nemesis.

    Director Jesse Jones does the right thing in never trying to visualise Moby Dick. What goes unseen is more terrifying than what they could have created.

    This creative and visual Moby Dick is a skillfully crafted production that makes you feel out among the water in a chase we know can never be won.

  • A View from Behind the Arras - Emma Trimble

    The hauntingly poignant, powerful performance of Moby Dick by the Simple8 theatre ensemble in association with Royal & Derngate, Northampton, impales the imagination and pulls focus to the natural environment, as the crew gets their hands bloody and disturbances build.

    Squally weather is expected this week at Malvern Theatres aboard the whaling ship made famous by Herman Melville’s novel, Moby Dick. Amidst the crashing waves, the atmospheric sea shanties echo across the ocean in this moving adaptation where Captain Ahab’s thirst for revenge, places his fellow seafarers in a dangerous pursuit of vengeance with catastrophic consequences.

    Strong performances against the violent tide by Captain Ahab, Guy Rhys, as a friendship between Ishmael, Mark Arends and Queequeg, Tom Swale, encourages an abandonment of sanity with a penchant for the murderous harpooning techniques needed to capture this enigma.

    Jonathan Charles, Hannah Emanuel, James Newton, Syreeta Kumar, Tom Swale and Hazel Monaghan weather the atmosphere through thunderstorms and fan-tails as their musical representations allow a feast for the senses with a wonderful suspenseful in trepidation. Director Jesse Jones allows room for quiet contemplation, a moving contrast to the fleshy melting pots and aggressive tides.

    The designer Kate Bunce’s set had all the flavours of a ship, with ladders, ropes and planks and the claustrophobic below deck feel was magically created as the crew had to carefully duck under the top deck to get around. This thought provoking execution was carried out in exquisite detail, even down to the candles. Along with lighting designer Johanna Town and adapter Sebastian Armesto Simple8 inspired thought and deliberation to a sinking trade.

    Climb aboard the Pequod this week at Malvern Theatres for an adventure of a lifetime with ‘Moby Dick’ if you dare.

  • Fairy Powered Productions - Courie Amado Juneau

    Moby Dick was first published as a novel in 1851. A cautionary tale about the self destruction that inevitably comes from being blinded by revenge – perhaps it should be essential reading for all country leaders upon election (or re-election). Adapted by Sebastian Armesto, I’ve not read the original so cannot say how faithful it was but this is a corker that fizzes along at a fair old lick.

    The stage was shrouded in enough smoke to justify a 1970’s Hammer Horror, the lighting also adding to the atmosphere, piquing the interest. And then – “Call me Ishmael” – unfamiliar as I was with the work, I knew the opening line. That’s the thing with this work – you know it, you know lines from it, without knowing that you know it. It’s embedded in our culture (“there she blows” is another one you’ll recognise).

    The entire cast were fabulous, bringing an impressive energy with tons of physicality as you would expect from the tale of life on board a whaling ship. There was dancing, deck swabbing and merriment aplenty but the drama really took off when hunting the whales, with a visceral realism that was breathtaking.

    I will specially mention some actors who (for their time on stage together) produced intense performances… Ishmael (Mark Arends) and Queequeg (Tom Swale) made a very likable couple of unlikely friends who were, nonetheless, thoroughly convincing and rather touching. Starbuck (Hannah Emanuel) and Capt. Aheb (Guy Rhys) gave us a very different dynamic; more distant as befitting their status and more confrontational too as Starbuck tries to pull Ahab back from the brink of his destructive course. All of this was handled with commendable empathy thanks to Director Jesse Jones.

    The whole production was thoroughly enhanced by the live music on stage. The sea-shanty’s sounded authentic (I’m not sure if they were, which shows how convincing the music was). Jonathan Charles is billed in the programme as Composer, Musical Director and onstage musician so I’m giving a rousing three cheers for his work! Hazel Monaghan and William Pennington were the other multi-instrumentalist musicians, producing an enormous range of emotions and effects (wind, filmic atmospherics to tingle the spine, storms etc). Wonderful.

    The set was an ingenious, stark construction in wood and scaffolding. With the addition of some well placed (and timed) ropes, barrels and planks it all added to the storytelling and fleshing out the scenes.

    In many ways it’s an apocalyptic work but it’s never depressing or downbeat. Sadness and loss are handled with great sensitivity, as is the killing of a whale – the actual point of the Pequod’s voyage, it was inevitable that this would be a feature. The journey (no pun intended) of the crew under Ahab’s leadership is something that could easily be overblown and become pantomimic but this production was crafted with a realism, sensitivity and a charm that does the fabulous Simple8 theatre group immense credit.

    Powerful (at times shocking) stuff that packed a punch without being gratuitous, this was a stunning production that was thought provoking and entertaining in equal measure. I very much look forward to Simple8’s next production and encourage you all to catch this one while you can. Highly recommended.