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Photo credit @ Manuel Harlan

Interview: Having a Whale of a Time!

Director Jesse Jones discusses Simple8’s Moby Dick

Ahoy me hearties! Are you ready for the epic adventure of a lifetime? Yes? Well don your sou’westers and join Simple8 Productions as they sail from Nantucket aboard The Pequod, in search of that legendary white whale, Moby Dick. We set out with Captain – oh, sorry – Director Jesse Jones, to find out more about what to expect on the voyage.

Jesse, thanks very much for coming ashore to chat with us. You’re directing Moby Dick this season. Can you tell us a bit about the production? It’s a revival isn’t?

The show is a revival of sorts. Simple8 originally did a production of the show in 2013 that was very well received. When we were talking about the possibility of me coming onboard to direct this new version of the show we talked a lot about the DNA of the original and how we would work together to reimagine it for a mid-scale production. At its core this production asks an audience to use their imagination and for us as a company to spark that imagination, to bring the world of the play to life using the bare essentials.

Herman Melville’s novel is a massive tome of a book but here it has been adapted down into a two hour show. How does that affect the dramatic pace?

Seb’s [Sebastian Armesto] adaptation has done a brilliant job of delivering the plot at break neck speed while also capturing some of the more meandering passages of the book. It creates this exhilarating piece of storytelling that feels true to the book yet exciting and engaging for a theatre audience.

Simple8 are renowned for creating bold theatrical worlds from very few props. How on earth of you going to manage this epic sea adventure and a ginormous whale on tour?

The joy of poor theatre is to bring words to life using very little. I hope that the show delivers that. So much of the power of the White Whale lives in the characters’ minds; it lives large in their heads. It consumes Captain Ahab to the point of obsession. Moby Dick is always one step ahead and the hunt finds the crew of the Pequod on the trail, picking up the scent and learning of the path of destruction left in his wake.

What can we expect musically in this production?

The music is a key storytelling device in the show. The sea shanties really conjure the seafaring nature of the story, but also the whole show is scored live onstage. Jonny’s [Jonathan Charles] music helps to transport us into the world of the play and supports the storytelling beautifully. We hide nothing and see the incredible company create the musical world of this epic adventure, playing numerous instruments and bins and brushes while they are at it.

The cast list for the show looks phenomenal, with some superb actor/musicians lined up. How has working with this ensemble been?

An absolute JOY. The team of people working on this show are some of the most talented, generous and compassionate that I have had the pleasure of working with. They have embraced the ensemble nature of the piece and in a short time have created a dynamic onstage that feels like they have been working together for years.

I see that the tour is taking you right out to the Isles of Scilly – how did that come about, and will you be sailing there?

It’s a fairly bonkers idea to take a show of this size across the seas to what is a much smaller venue than we’re performing at elsewhere. But it’s very exciting as it’s the first time a midscale show like this has ever managed to go to the Isles of Scilly, and part of creating Moby Dick was making it high quality but also highly flexible, so we can perform it to audiences anywhere. There are some fantastic cultural plans on Scilly at the moment, including the building of a new theatre space – and we contacted the team there to ask whether we could contribute. Everyone from both the Scilly and the Moby Dick team has approached this challenge with a ’How can we make it work?’ attitude – and that’s the only way these things work. I’m thrilled it’s going to be happen. Throw in the rich maritime history of Scilly and the whales you can see just off the coast, and this just felt like a perfect fit.

How do you hope your audiences will feel after the show?

I hope that they get swept up in the storytelling. I hope their imaginations have been sparked. I hope that they ask questions of leadership and when obsession becomes dangerous. I hope they feel entertained. I hope they want to talk to people about it.

Moby Dick tours the UK from 5 April to 22 June. Details can be found here. Everything Theatre will be attending at Wilton’s Music Hall (23 April – 11 May) so watch this space for our review.

You can find out more about Simple8 here.

About Mary Pollard

By her own admission Mary goes to the theatre far too much, and will watch just about anything. Her favourite musical is Matilda, which she has seen 16 times, but she’s also an Anthony Neilson and Shakespeare fan - go figure. She has a long history with Richmond Theatre, but is currently helping at Shakespeare's Globe as a steward and in the archive. She's also having fun being ET's specialist in children's theatre and puppetry, and being a Super Assessor for the Offies! Mary now insists on being called The Master having used the Covid pandemic to achieve an award winning MA in London's Theatre and Performance.