Ross Ericson, adapted from the novel by Herman Melville
Grist to the Mill Productions
Contrary to popular opinion, "Call me Ishmael", is not the first line of Moby Dick, and fittingly, is not the first line of Grist to the Mill's new adaptation of the book. Coinciding with the 200th anniversary of Herman Melville's birth, it's a fine time to revisit the hugely ambitious great American novel. In period garb and surrounded by a few naval trappings, Ericson wades straight into the first day of Captain Ahab's tragic quest for vengeance against the legendary white whale who crippled him, before settling into the traditional early scene setting.
He's an enthusiastic storyteller, much as we'd expect from previous works, such as Gratiano and The Unknown Soldier. His Ishmael recounts the story with the alacrity of a man who knows he has a willing audience, casting wild pictures of the rolling treacherous depths through words and sweeps of his hands. But there's something lacking in the piece, partly hammered home by an occasionally stumbling delivery, something that is forgivable to an extent considering Melville's notoriously cumbersome writing needing to be chewed through. There's also an urgency to get through the piece that never quite lets up and means that there are few moments for the sort of quiet horror and reflection that usually plays out clearly in Ericson's performances to great effect.
Truly, it's a bold choice to adapt a labyrinthine book like Moby Dick; a novel filled with asides on the nature of whale-hunting, the magnificent beasts themselves and the intricacies of ship life on the Pequod. In many ways, Ericson has opted for the logical choice, to eschew much of the lengthy and dread-filled build-up, and cut quickly from the crew's first days aboard, to the first sighting of the whale. In doing so, the sense of creeping dread that grows through the book as they seek their foe is lost somewhat. The nine "gams", where the Peyquod meets and tries to have a parley with fellow whaler crews, may drag a little, but without that, there isn't the sense of building foreboding that doom is nigh.
As it stands, the result is a rollicking sea adventure that draws the audience along in its wake, a play that provides ample moments of fun and a vivid depiction of a maritime adventure, but one that could perhaps have been so much more.
Reviewer: Graeme Strachan