Words by Catherine McLean
It has been over 150 years since Herman Melville wrote his illustrious novel in a single feverous winter, but Until Monstrous’ grueling stage adaptation of Moby Dick proves that it is an outstanding piece of Western literature.
Showing at the University of Melbourne’s intimate Guild Theatre for one week only, this mammoth stage adaptation of the legendary voyage of the Pequod is terrifying, deeply moving and darkly humorous. The Pequod is led on a mission of revenge by (a rather imposing and tyrannical) Captain Ahab, fuelled by a maddened and monomaniacal desire to kill the ferocious and enigmatic white whale, Moby Dick – the whale that severed Captain Ahab’s leg at the knee off the coast of Japan.
Spectators must appreciate Until Monstrous’ ambition in this adaptation. Adapting a 900-page novel of Shakespearean proportion is no easy feat. Due to the content and lyricism of the novel, the story of Moby Dick does not transfer easily to the stage… getting a real, live whale on stage might have proved difficult.
The set, props and costuming were impressive considering how difficult it must be to effectively pull off a whaling ship at high seas on a small stage. Working with a chilling score and lighting effects, Moby Dick: Show Thyself transported the audience to the gory reality of a 19th century whaling ship. At times, I even felt a bit seasick! And I really loved the use of (presumably fake) whale guts.
Overall, the casting was very well done. I particularly enjoyed the portrayal of Stubb, the Pequod’s second mate. As a happy-go-lucky, spritely figure, he adds some comic relief to the otherwise deeply tragic and terrifying world of Moby Dick. At one point in the play, the ship’s crew is battling against a raging typhoon and Stubb is happily walking around the deck, chatting to the crew as though nothing is happening… I just could not stop giggling to myself.
Ishmael, the character who narrates the novel, was also very striking. The actor’s small physique really complimented the imposing stature of Captain Ahab and the master-servant dynamic of Melville’s work. My only complaint was that at times, Ishmael lacked volume, making it hard to hear some of the dialogue and soliloquies which made it difficult to follow Ishmael’s extremely important role in the play.
That aside, this adaptation certainly stayed as true to the novel as possible. This does, however, extend the time to almost three hours of high tragedy and drama. Let this be a word of warning that this adaptation is more of a grueling emotional experience than a leisurely night at the theatre.
The debut of Until Monstrous’ adaptation of Moby Dick: Show Thyself could not have been timelier. Following the United Nations decision to make it illegal for Japanese whaling ships to do “scientific research,” Moby Dick: Show Thyself is a terrifying reminder of the gory reality of the whaling business and the violence, revenge, monomania and madness conjured up by the high seas.
Tickets are still available for Moby Dick: Show Thyself for Friday 4 April and Saturday 5 April.
Every issue, Brendan McDougall takes a classic literary text and fills it with graphic, explicit, filthy, transgressive, don’t-show-your-grandma sexiness. Keep it under lock and key.
Words by Brendan McDougall
Illustrations by Sarah Layton
Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.
It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation, not to mention the opportunity to spend a few months of dark nights up to my neck in seamen. The seamen all over the bunks in our quarters, seamen all over the deck, each individually scented, albeit all with that distinct saltiness that lights my loins so, invigorated me to no end. My journey began positively, sharing a bed with a nasty Polynesian named Queequeg, equal parts tattoos and throbbing masculinity, with which he showed no hesitation in stuffing my rubbery, landlubbery porthole, filling me with the salty solution both my rectum and disposition hungered for. I felt safe beneath Queequeg’s gasping, sweating frame as he tied me down and docked me for those first three nights, and even though my body was being wave-borne out into to the unknown Atlantic, every instance that Queequeg’s haired stomach flesh slapped like a wave into my stern felt like a homeward pound.
This initial comfort wore away however, just as the ocean erodes the coastline, as my restlessness and thirst for misadventure sharpened. We moored in Nantucket and there, in the port, I heard rumour of a ship that lay in the harbour, a mysterious ship sighted every night being visited by shadowed figures. Opportunistically I arrived with my cock in hand, red-raw from Queequeg’s sandpaper palms, standing starboard side of the good ship Pequod, awaiting a meeting with the captain. I had heard legend onshore of Captain Ahab’s single-minded approach to flogging his white whale Moby Dick, and though warned of the danger, sought a ride on his large, ragged vessel. After letting another prospective sailor shaft me for twenty minutes in the shadows under the pier, the captain appeared, a gruff silhouette against the afternoon sun. I quickly scooped the cum out of my porthole and went up to meet Ahab. His voice was musty like an old rug and the sight of his bare chest, weathered and red as lobster-flesh, caused my mast to stiffen in the wind. “Come, Ahab’s compliments to ye; come and see if ye can swerve me.”
He touched one massive finger to my lips before turning away and leading me towards his quarters. It was quiet on deck, save for the screech of seagulls, the clop of Ahab’s whale-bone leg and the beating of my sparrow-heart. The captain had lost his real leg in attempting to win his life-long battle with the white whale. The traditional rationale behind whaling lay in the extraction of precious spermaceti from the whale’s sperm-sac, but Ahab took to the sea only for revenge. Here was a man who had no care for profits, a man who wanted to flog the white whale until it was red and bleeding, screaming as it gave up its sperm. We entered the cabin and he closed the door behind him, lit a candle, and stepped quickly out of his pantaloons. His member, already bulbous, was engorged with blood. It had teeth marks and even a harpoon imbedded in its side. This was the Moby Dick, the white whale. He looked at me earnestly as he started desperately pulling at it, panting frantically. He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart’s shell upon it. He moved on from the tugging and began slapping his cock, punching it, grabbing it with two hands and twisting it, all the while staring at me earnestly. He wailed, leaping at me and grabbing my face and pushing my soft lips onto the monster, holding it in place as he thrusted. I could feel the tip of his knob crushing into the back of my throat and I gargled with joy.
“Swerve me! Swerve me!” he bellowed.
I sucked as hard as God would allow me to suck, so much so that I could feel my eyes bulging from their sockets, until finally he screamed with pleasure as I extracted the sperm from the white whale, making sure to collect every last drop salaciously with my tongue. The old captain slumped onto his chair, eyes in a far off place, dick shrivelling rapidly like a rotting piece of fruit. His gaze was one of relief: after all these years, Moby Dick had been licked, and sucked, and chewed a little bit too.