Moby Dick inspired a lifelong obsession in Orson Welles. So much so, that he
directed and appeared in at least three different adaptations of the novel: once on
the stage and twice in film.
Welles’s interpretations of Moby Dick included a 1955 play about a theatre
company’s rehearsal of the Herman Melville story, which featured newcomers Patrick
McGoohan, Joan Plowright and Kenneth Williams, and starred the director himself as
Captain Ahab. It is said that Welles considered the theatre hall to be the belly of the
whale, in which the actors are unwittingly trapped – much as, in the novel, the crew
are caught on the ship. Soon after the theatre production finished its run, Welles
shot, in two London theatres, a film that included additional cast members such as
Christopher Lee. It has since been presumed lost. 16 years later, Welles made
another attempt at his own film version, in which he played all the major parts.
Some of this footage was edited into a movie posthumously but, at the time of
writing, the film is unavailable for public viewing owing to legal issues.
‘In the Belly of the Whale’ is a response to Welles’s unremitting and ultimately
unfinished project. It considers the theme of rehearsal and its related notions of
incompleteness, version and repetition. The exhibition features new works by Adam
Chodzko, Côme Ciment and Jacopo Miliani, a recent piece by Anthea Hamilton and
Adam Chodzko has made a film for a damaged projector, set in a theatre, and
objects for actors to use in rehearsal. Côme Ciment has articulated elements from
Moby Dick and the exhibition’s premise with different gestures that appear
throughout the exhibition space. Anthea Hamilton’s airy room divider Untitled (Rope
Divider) (2009/2011) is made predominantly of knotted rope – the technique for
which was inspired by John Huston’s film Moby Dick. A large metal ring acts as a
portal between the real space of the exhibition and a possible space of fiction.
Working with found images of a theatrical origin, Jacopo Miliani imagines a casting
for some of the secondary characters in Moby Dick.
‘In the Belly of the Whale’ includes a programme of associated events, to be
The exhibition is itself a rehearsal for a larger show that the curators are developing