There's a nauticaul theme developing at the Southwark Playhouse. Next week Titanic opens to previews in The Large and last night Billy Budd opened in The Little.
Covered in dirt, sweat and blood that reminded me of another nautical play Southwark put on, Hairy Ape, good soul Billy is impressed upon a Navy ship that is sailing off to fight the French.
Adapted from Herman Melville's novel Billy (Charlie Archer) is an orphan, a stammerer and a simple and gentle soul who sees the good in everyone but that doesn't mean he can't handle himself, quickly winning over moody, bully Jenkins (Iain Batchelor) by standing up to him.
But there is one person Billy just can't win over: Claggart, the man at arms (Gerrard McArthur). The relationship between these two men is fascinating. While the rest of the crew can see that Claggart is out to get Billy, Billy think he is his friend.
Why Claggart takes a dislike to Billy is the sort of thing that would come up as a question on an English exam or give psychoanalysts hours of couch time, such is the subtext in their encounters.
Is Claggart afraid of Billy because Billy isn't scared of him? Does Billy's goodness remind him of what he lacks? At times I was reminded of that line Gertrude says to Hamlet in the closet scene: "Thou turn'st mine eyes into my very soul".