Moby Dick, Lano and Woodley

Lano and Woodley bottle the magic. Photo: supplied.

Associate editor and special writer John Moyle spoke to the talented and hilarious duo, Colin Lane and Frank Woodley about their upcoming show Moby Dick.

Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick is regarded as one of the greatest works of literature ever written in the English language.

The story told from the viewpoint of Ishmael, the only survivor of a doomed whaling voyage of the Pequod, recounts the tale of the obsessed Captain Ahab as he seeks revenge on a great white sperm whale that on a previous journey has taken his leg in an attack.

The long and isolating Melbourne lockdown provided the perfect space for Colin Lane to read the great tome and he was impressed enough to call comedy partner Frank Woodley and suggest that it would be a great basis for a new Lano and Woodley show.

“It’s seven hundred pages long and I read it probably two to three hours a day, and then I said to Frank that we should do a show about it,” Lane said.

“We managed to find a way where we are mainly using the very bleak and very intense suffering of that doomed voyage, and we’re using that as a backdrop for us to run around doing stupid, silly nonsense,” Woodley said.

Lane likens their approach as being similar to their show Fly about the Wright brothers, where everybody knows from the start that it is not going to end well.

“It’s just not about Moby Dick, but it’s also about Frank and my relationship and everybody knows that it is going to go pear-shaped,” Lane said.

“So I’m desperately trying to tell the story of Moby Dick but there is no way that is going to happen, it’s just going to be an unmitigated disaster.”

Lano and Woodley get tied up in Moby Dick. Photo: supplied.

In the novel during the voyage, Ahab meets Captain Boomer, another whaler who has lost his arm to the white whale, but unlike Ahab, he is not consumed by hatred and resentment, and Lano and Woodley’s take on Moby Dick makes much of this counterpoint.

“In our show, we run a parallel where Colin has been injured psychologically by me and over the course of the play he becomes more and more riddled with a sort of madness towards me, and it results in the show being destroyed in the same way that the ship is destroyed by Moby Dick,” Woodley said.

Writing Moby Dick took the shape of most of their previous shows, starting with meeting a couple of times a week and ending up being daily three or four-hour sessions, which both acknowledge can get heated with intensity.

From these sessions, the structure emerges and then settles into a draft that is packed with as many jokes as they can think up which are then pared down to what will be closely realised in the show.

“Thank goodness the audience don’t have to sit through that and what they get is six months’ work distilled down into a one-hour performance,” Woodley said.

Both comedians acknowledge that the audience plays an important part of fine-tuning the shows.

Woodley puts it down to “an emerging intelligence that comes off the audience and the show is re-written based on what they think is funny and we sort of just hold on for dear life and just ride the laughter for an hour and ten minutes.”

Lano and Woodley have been two of Australia’s most loved comedy characters since they began double act in 1993.

A quiet philosophical moment in Moby Dick. Photo: supplied.

Utilising slapstick and sketch comedy they conquered television and the stage until 2006 when they announced their final tour after which they went their separate ways, with Lane taking to the stage and Woodley exploring film and television roles.

In 2017 they eventually reunited for their stage production of Fly and have been working together since.

“Tell people that this is the last time that they will see you and then they will come out in droves,” Lane said.

“Even after thirty years we still haven’t gotten used to it…so you never know, this may be our last show.”

With Moby Dick being a two-hander condensed down from the novel’s multiple characters it is only fitting that the audience knows in advance who is taking what roles.

“In this show, we’re trying to figure out who’s playing who, well, we all know that Frank is the Dick and I’m Moby.”

Moby Dick sails into the Enmore for shows in July.


Dates: Thu 7 – Sun 10 Jul
Time: Thu & Fri 7:30pm, Sat 5pm & 7:30pm, Sun 4pm & 6:30pm Venue: Enmore Theatre
Ticket Price: From $64.90

John Moyle is the associate editor and special writer for the Sydney Sentinel.

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