Review

 

MARY LELAND reviews Moby Dickat the Town Hall, Youghal.

AS A touring production this Gare St Lazare presentation of Herman Melville’s gigantic novel Moby Dickcouldn’t be thinner. For the story of a voyage in obsessive search of the great white whale, all that is provided is a small table for a set, a geansaí, black trousers and hob-nailed boots for a costume, a song from the Book of Psalms for the music and a minimal lighting design. That’s all, apart from the whiff of sea-salted air at the first performance in the quay-side Town Hall in Youghal, the now unrecognisable setting for the town of New Bedford in the John Huston film of the novel.

It is as if the team of actor Conor Lovett and director Judy Hegarty Lovett took as the guide to both adaptation and performance the whaler’s advice to “keep cool, keep cool, cucumber is the word”. There are no distractions as Lovett’s voice in its ordinary Irish tone introduces the story-teller Ishmael and the men with whom he goes to sea; the why of their being on the Pequod, the geography of their journey, the characteristics of the weather and of the wide trance of the sea, the killing of the whales they find, the encounters, especially with that of the Rachel and its grief-stricken commander.

The conversational style lifts or falls according to the mood of each passage, its intensity growing with the depiction of the demented Captain Ahab and declining again into something like amazed pity for a being so crazed as to challenge nature itself. There is pity too for the whale; Melville was a satirist and liked the image of churches preaching compassion while lit by whale-oil, or women in farthingales made of whale-bone so that they sat, unknowing, in the jaws of a whale.

Chapter by chapter the novel detours into subheadings of philosophy, theology, etymology, zoology, religion and the practicalities of tools and weapons, not least those involved in whaling itself, and all these chapters are built around the delirium of hatred and danger expressed in Captain Ahab. Inevitably the Lovetts had to leave a very great deal of this out, but what has been omitted has not been extinguished. This is a distillation of Melville’s genius, not a dissection.

Music for voice and recorder by Martin Lewis hold the mood as Lovett’s voice accommodates and his body responds to the rhythms of this language.

He holds us spellbound as he catches the humour as well as the wisdom of Ishmael’s commentary, his pauses for thought, for memory, for finding the right word, reminding us that the story of this noble but melancholy ship, its crew, its quarry and its captain with the crucifixion in his face, is a story told by a man of honour and of mercy.


On national tour until May 31st