Moby Dick – Conor Maguire | CultureHUB Review
Belfast Book Festival | Verbal Arts – The Black Box, 08 June ’15
Having seen Conor Maguire’s spell binding performance as Oscar in De Profundis at the Cresent Arts Centre, I was eagerly anticipating his interpretation of Melville’s Moby Dick.
Covering 14 characters in a complex tale is a tall task, though characters such as Queenqueq were described in narration. Conor used the book’s narrator Ishmael to guide us through the tale, and to introduce the stories characters in turn.
The first part of the show exploded in a flurry of characters, each differentiated by accent and mannerism. Conor’s stage presence is arresting, as he seamlessly moves from the measured Ishmael to Captain Peleg, a ranting Scottish Quaker questioning the narrator’s desire to hunt whales. Though a serious tale, Conor weaves humour into these interactions, the ranting Peleg striking an uncanny resemblance to Rab C Nesbitt in full fury.
Skipping a couple of chapters – covered in retrospect by Ishmael narrating later in the play – we move to Father Mapple; a purple faced Maguire hurls a fire and brimstone sermon of Jonah and the Whale, a doom filled prophecy for the upcoming quest for Moby dick.
The prophesies of doom continue with Elijah, a hunched salty sea dog asking Ismael if he’s sold his soul to board the vessel. Conor then skilfully introduces the ships characters, each representing elements of man’s nature that attempts to temper Captain Ahab’s lust for vengeance; a metaphor, the ways of Moby Dick, like those of a Christian God, are unknowable to man. Conor’s craft in stamping each character with an indelible trait, is hugely entertaining and often funny.
As the plot moves to sea, the story leans heavily on Ishmael’s narration and the plight of Captain Ahab. And although Conor is an excellent narrator, this part of the play was less engaging than the earlier stages. As the ships characters flitted in and out of the mayhem filled plot, it was a little harder to identify them via accents and mannerisms.
An evening with Conor Maguire is never a dull one, he gave his all throughout the performance and transfigured the cosy Black Box into an ancient maritime story. A complex tale engagingly narrated, skilfully scripted, and a truly valiant effort to animate a large cast of characters, a feat beyond the range of most actors.