‘What were you trying to achieve?’ was the question asked by one of this reviewer’s former tutors. It’s worth asking of Spymonkey’s ‘Moby Dick’.
The four-strong ensemble spend a sometimes inventive two hours or so paddling around the story line of Herman Melville’s broken-backed narrative of obsession, loyalty and complicity without moving anywhere near dangerous waters.
It’s clear from early on that Spymonkey love panto. Really love it, to the extent of repeating most of their repertoire of slapstick and sight gags far more frequently than most of them deserve or can take. To be fair, we do get segments of the novel along the way – the narrator Ishmael, arrives at the Spouter Inn, meets his soul-mate Queqeeg and both ship aboard Captain Ahab’s doomed whaler ‘The Peqoud’. A young audience predictably took more piss out of Father Mapple’s sermon, in which Melville sets out his aims, than even Spymonkey attempt.
This is really the corner Spymonkey paint themselves into, in trying to adapt an uneven novel of high ambition to their own style of commedia based humour. Good-humoured spoofery only takes us so far, and when the company attempt a temporary reversion to seriousness, in the conflicted worlds of Ahab and Starbuck, cheerfulness breaks relentlessly in.
Any ‘iconic’ text, of course can, and frequently deserves to, be guyed. It’s how this is done, to what end, and crucially with what intention that matters, and, for both audience and performers sake, ought to. Spymonkey clearly love to entertain, and work hard to do so. As this reviewer has observed before, there’s nothing wrong with entertainment, though a ‘but’ lingers in the case of Spymonkey’s ‘Moby Dick’.
This may read as if composed with some malice aforethought, but forethought, at least in terms of what Spymonkey’s ‘Moby Dick’ set out to achieve was what this reviewer struggled to discover.
Show runs 10-13 Feb, 2010