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Events for the Marathon Weekend

Apart from the lecture series taking place in April and May, exploring Liverpool’s links with Melville and whaling, we’ve been planning some talks and events for the weekend of the reading itself. These are all more or less confirmed, but timings for some have yet to be fixed. Events will take place in the Maritime Museum, on board the schooner Kathleen & May, and at the Museum of Liverpool.

On Saturday May 4th We have a talk about scrimshaw by international expert Janet West, and on Sunday 5th Katie McGettigan will be exploring Melville’s time in Liverpool. The watery part of the world is represented by a performance of the medieval play Noah, directed by Dr Sarah Peverley and performed by students at the University of Liverpool, and for children, author Jon Mayhew will be telling stories and maybe even reading from his new book Monster Odyssey: The Eye of Neptune. There will also be crafts and other activities, including a ‘whale trail’ around the Maritime Museum.

If you want to participate by reading in the marathon, head over to this page and find out how.

Pictures of People Reading Moby Dick

The New Bedford Whaling Museum, which holds its 17th annual Moby Dick marathon in January 2013, is collecting images of people reading Moby Dick via a Flickr group you can find right here. I’ll have news of a very special edition of Moby Dick that would be ideal for this very soon, but in the mean time, why not break out your camera and see what you can come up with?

He's reading "Moby-Dick," by Herman Melville. She's reading "The Virgin Suicides," by Jeffrey Eugenides.

Guy walks on stage and starts telling this crazy story …

Last night I attended Moby Dick at Liverpool’s Unity Theatre, adapted for stage by Conor Lovett  and Judy Hegarty Lovett from the novel by Herman Melville, with music composed and performed by Caoimhin O’Raghallaigh, as part of the Liverpool Irish Festival. I was also lucky enough to speak to Conor earlier in the day about the play, and the unlikely, yet rather wonderful, transformation of Melville’s novel into a play with just one actor.

This is a gripping, and intense performance, with sustained tension and high drama. Ishmael’s story is accompanied by the perfectly-judged music of Caoimhin O’Raghallaigh, performing on an instrument I had never seen before, but which turns out to be a Norwegian Setesdalsfele “5+5”, a fiddle with five played strings, and five resonating strings below.  Together they recreate the atmosphere of melancholy stillness and suppressed danger that pervades the novel itself, from the first ‘loomings’ to its desolate epilogue, and yet do so with a lightness and humour that make this show a joy.

The performance is impressive, but I was also fascinated by the process of adaptation, itself a remarkable feat. Judy Hegarty Lovett, the show’s director, first read the book, and declared it “a natural solo show.” What followed was an intense period of study, stripping down the novel and turning it into a conversation between Ishmael and the audience, a conversation in which he tells the story of Ahab’s “slow demise,” divesting himself of civilisation. Lovett recalled “Every day going down to this semi-submerged vaulted cave thing, I would light my wood burning stove and start filleting our sentences. I felt like I was going on board the Pequod every day … A crazy, intense period.” It is a remarkable adaptation that somehow manages to distill Melville’s book into an intimate, personal recollection, and yet leaves nothing of its magnitude behind. 

Having spliced together the key chapters and scenes, finding sentences that would express what they hoped to get across, there was naturally very little room for the encyclopaedic detail for which the novel is famous. Almost everything had to be stripped away to get to the essence of Ishmael’s story, and yet there is obvious pleasure here in Melville’s language, his use of Quaker speech, and moments of comedy. The result is a beautiful jewel of a show that captures the mental and moral decline of Ahab and his crew, and the existential challenge they face. The destructive force of Ahab and the whale, and the profound loneliness of Ishmael at the end of the story, are powerfully handled.

Gare St. Lazare Players have been touring the play off and on since 2009, performing around the world, and Lovett says that it has given him some wonderful experiences, in particular putting on shows around New Bedford, and visiting the whaling museum there, and at Mystic Seaport. This was the last performance of the current tour, before the Gare St. Lazare Players move on with the productions of Beckett which form the bulk of their repertoire, but Moby Dick will be back. I recommend you look out for it, but in the mean time, why not read the book?

Gare St Lazare Players website is here.

Caoimhin O’Raghallaigh’s website is here.

Lecture Series: Melville, Whaling, and Liverpool

We began putting the programme together for next Spring’s lecture series at the Merseyside Maritime Museum this morning. The six lectures, which are organised through Continuing Education at the University of Liverpool, will take place weekly on Wednesdays between mid-April and mid-May 2013 (final dates to be confirmed), to coincide with our Moby Dick on the Mersey marathon reading. Topics we are hoping to cover include Liverpool’s whaling fleet in the eighteenth century; William Scoresby, whaling, and Greenland’s ‘Liverpool Coast’; Melville and Liverpool; the mythology of whaling; and whales in the Irish Sea.

We’re building an exciting series of events on and around the weekend itself. Watch this space for more information as the programme comes together. Follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to our mailing list.