The Whale

Renee Philippi and Carlo Adinolfi
Barrow Street Theatre, New York
(2009)

Production photo

The Whale is a DIY solo rendition of Herman Melville's Moby Dick in just one hour. It has been doing the rounds for years, as this reviewer first saw it in Edinburgh not too far short of a decade ago.

This impressionistic adaptation still seems as fresh today, thanks to the tremendous effort put in by Carlo Adinolfi, who plays a rich selection of characters from the great whaling novel, not to mention the big beast himself.

Adinolfi has clearly had a training in physical theatre and The Whale has been conceived as a show that goes far beyond the text.

Adinolfi uses his body, tattooed with whale images, as a major tool but far better are a series of wood-based props that are magically transformed.

These include blocks and a multi-purpose crutch/harpoon but also some simple but attractive and effective boats that vary from under one foot long to man-sized. These are then complemented by a powerful soundscape.

Most of this show lives in the imaginations of Adinolfi and his co-writer and director, Renee Philippi, as well as those of his audience members.

If anything, this adaptation is a little too ambitious, sacrificing plot to effect on occasion but it throws up many memorable images and brings to life a whole crew of eccentric seamen, whom we previously only knew from the page or possibly movie adaptations.

The Whale represents a prodigious performing feat and there is no reason why it should not live on for as many more years as Adinolfi has the energy to represent Ahab, Ishmael and most ethereally, the rippling, white whale itself.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher