Moby Dick Rehearsed

Moby Dick Rehearsed is the title of a play written and directed by Orson Welles. It was performed in London in 1955. A lost film of the play, directed by Welles, starred the original stage cast, most of whom went on to become big names of the stage and screen.

Welles's minimal stage design was possibly influenced by his long-term friend, Michael Macliammoir, and what he termed "anti-naturalist theater". The stage was bare, the actors appeared in contemporary street clothes, and the props were minimal. For example, brooms were used for oars, and a stick was used for a telescope. The actors provided the action, and the audience's imagination provided the ocean, costumes, and the whale.

In The Fabulous Orson Welles, by Peter Noble, cameraman Hilton Craig reveals, "it was by no means merely a photographed stage-play. On the contrary, it was shot largely in close-ups and looked very impressive on near-completion."


The setting is a mid-19th Century American repertory theater. The play begins subtly as the audience arrives with the cast milling around an empty stage. The cast members generally fool around and complain about their boss and their forthcoming production of King Lear. Then, making a big dramatic entrance and smoking a cigar, the actor manager of the time comes on stage and tells them they are going to rehearse another piece, Moby Dick.

The cast grudgingly performs the play, improvising scenery from items lying around, and gradually get more into character as the play develops.


Because the film is lost, many people have speculated it was never created. However, evidence supporting the film was made can be found in the book, The Films Of Christopher Lee, by Pohle Jr. and Hart — Patrick McGoohan allegedly said in a 1986 interview that the excerpt of the film he saw while Welles was reviewing the rushes one day was fantastic.

There is speculation that the film Moby Dick Rehearsed was broadcast on BBC Television in 1955.

The Moby Dick Rehearsed film is not to be confused with a later project wherein Welles filmed a 22 minute version of various scenes from the play, playing all the parts himself.


The original production ran for only three weeks, but the play has since been performed numerous times on both sides of the Atlantic.

In 1962, a production was mounted on Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre starring Rod Steiger as "The Actor Manager/Father Mapple/Captain Ahab" and Roy Poole as "The Serious Actor/Starbuck" and directed by Douglas Campbell. The production ran for only thirteen performances (November 28th - December 8th, 1962).


Actor/Actress Role
Gordon Jackson A Young Actor/Ishmael
Christopher Lee A Stage Manager/Flask
Patrick McGoohan A Serious Actor/Starbuck
Wensley Pithey A Middle-Aged Actor/Stubb
Joan Plowright A Young Actress/Pip
Orson Welles An Actor Manager/Father Mapple/Ahab
Kenneth Williams A Very Serious Actor/Elijah and others

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