“My thoughts are whirled like a potter’s wheel”: I know not where I am, nor what I do”

Henry VI part 1, Act 1, Scene 5

William Shakespeare

Two men killing time whilst waiting for something that might never happen. Remind you of anything…? blog-2Mark Rylance and Louis Jenkins’ new play Nice Fish shares many similarities with Waiting for Godot, but far outstrips even Beckett in its absurdity. So absurd is the script, in fact, that it seems like it really belongs at a fringe or off-West End theatre, rather than being a Broadway-to-West-End transfer. The Harold Pinter Theatre feels an odd location, something based entirely on Rylance’s reputation rather than anything about the specific production. To be fair, I only booked to see the show because of Sir Mark; plays about ice fishing in Minnesota don’t tend to be my usual fare…

The set, however, is an immediate assuager of doubts. The stage is an ice-field, perspective given by a tiny road in the distance, with the lights of cars and trains speeding past miniature electricity pylons. An automated doll picks at the ice next to a tiny house – and then in an instant the lights black out creating one of the darkest darknesses I’ve ever experienced.
The kind that makes you almost have to shut your eyes because it’s so overwhelming. When the lights come up again the doll has become a real life person. It’s an early warning of the crazy perspective shifts to come.

At first it appears to be a straight-forward two-hander. Jim Lichtscheidl plays straight-man Erik to Rylance’s rather more ridiculous Ron, the kind of person who, during the first moments of the play, manages to drop his mobile through an ice hole into the freezing lake below. blog-4A big pro for this play was that, within ten minutes of it starting, I heard my mum laugh out loud at a joke. (It was about walking into multiple rooms and forgetting R why you were there. Classic mum-joke fare). This is generally rare. It’s not that she doesn’t find things funny, she just doesn’t actually lol. As it were. So well done Mark Rylance for that. To be perfectly honest I would watch him read the Yellow Pages (if they still exist…?) He brings a sense of immediacy to a performance that few other actors can pull off, and it is put to great effect in this production. He is allowed to roam the stage, play with audience reactions, even play with one of those singing fish you put on your wall. loved this bit so much, we used to have one of those in my house when I was little.

At first, we get quite a few interspersed scenes between the odd couple, poetic reflections scattered among the more classic time-killing interchanges between the two. I personally find reminiscing monologues as a concept to be a little tiresome, and a bit short-handy, but the language during these sections rhythmic enough to work a kind of spell over the audience, even if you don’t listen to exactly what everyone is saying all the time. blog-6The more comedic sections are the real charm of the play, however. Ron pretending to be a snowman is a great sequence. Then, unexpectedly, other characters start to arrive. Bob Davis appears briefly as an officious DNR man, followed by Raye Birk and an Ariel-like  Kayli Carter as grandfather and precocious granddaughter who own a sauna in the middle of the frozen lake. With their arrival the oddities which have occurred so far start to build and build until next thing you know they’ve all disappeared in a snowstorm/hurricane, and Davis’ head pops like a seal out of an ice hole clutching Ron’s lost phone in his hand.

From then on the absurdity only increases. **SPOILERS for the end coming up (not in terms of plot, just in terms of design)** Lichtscheidl and blog-3Rylance strip off their thick coats and scarves to reveal businessmen suits – they must be sweating like pigs under those stage lights wow – and then almost immediately take those off to uncover yet another costume change, with Lichtscheidl as an old man, and Rylance as his elderly wife, hobbling about the stage and complaining about life as if it was a movie they didn’t understand (that’s not me being poetic, that’s literally the concept). This was one of my favourite scenes. By this time you’ve just accepted and embraced the ridiculousness, and when two massive fish hooks descend from the ceiling and reel Rylance and Lichtscheidl’s confused OAPs up into the sky it’s a fittingly hilarious ending to a baffling but enjoyable evening.

Where the production falls down, I think, is the middle section. Although director Claire van Kampen does her best to keep providing newly interesting scene changes, tents that fly away, new weather conditions,blog-5 there are definitely moments where you wonder if this play has any point at all, especially during any particularly poetic reminiscing scenes. And not in a “wow, the point is that it has no point” way, like we get by the end, but in a “who knew ninety minutes could be this long” way. Still, this is only a brief feeling, and it is soon made clear that the bemusement is purposeful. This is a play I certainly won’t forget seeing, and I’m so glad I went to see, because it’s really not something I’d usually book to see. Go and see it for an entertaining, bewildering (and short!) night of theatre – and remember, if you turn up in a fish or fisherman costume you get a free box!*

Nice Fish at the Harold Pinter Theatre: 3.5/5 stars

*sadly no one did this when we were there, and I didn’t have the guts to do it myself.

“Now is she in the very lists of love”

Venus and Adonis, Line 595

William Shakespeare

This post was sponsored by TheatreTickets.uk. All opinions, however, are my own.

Late November is the time I start writing lists; lists of food to buy, carols to learn, cards and presents to give, and (yay) presents I want. With this is mind, I thought I’d bring my festive list-making to Mingled Yarns, starting with…

THEATRE TO SEE AT CHRISTMAS THAT ISN’T ACTUALLY CHRISTMASSY

So. You’re in London for December and you want to see some theatre, but you don’t want to go full-on pantomime-Nutcracker-Snowman just yet, but you still have to find something all your family/friends can go to and not leave feeling totally depressed. Whatever the state of the world might be (don’t get me started), it is almost Advent after all. Look no further for the ultimate list of non-christmassy-yet-not-totally-depressing-and-serious-theatre-on-at-the-moment (title needs work I admit):

  1. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

This is just a stunner of a show. I saw it about three years ago, and I would willingly go back again, and I’ve never met anyone who didn’t love it, blogregardless of age. The book itself (by Mark Haddon) is a murder-mystery-cum-family-drama-cum-coming-of-age novel, beautifully told through the eyes of autistic fifteen-year-old Christopher. The play is all of this and more, its digitally illuminated set adding an unforgettable extra element. And there’s a real live puppy. A dog isn’t just for Christmas, but they are extra adorable on a cold winter’s night. If you want a piece of really good theatre, which just so happens to be incredibly heart-warming, this is the thing to see.

Gielgud Theatre.

  1. The Lion King

If you aren’t awed by the opening scene of this musical, we will never understand each other. blog-5It is just factually one of the best musical openings ever in theatre. Full stop. I’ve seen The Lion King three times, and never got bored of ‘The Circle of Life’ being belted out at full blast, whilst actors in the most gorgeous costumes became elephants, gazelles, giraffes, flamingos, and – of course – lions, before my eyes. Like Curious Incident, this is spectacle theatre, but with a simply moving core story of love and loss. And, of course, there’s the cracking song list: ‘Hakuna Matata’, ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’, ‘He Lives in You’, ‘I Just Can’t Wait to be King’… BRB just going off to have a private Disney singalong.

Lyceum Theatre.

  1. Les Miserables

Okay, okay, I assume you’re either thinking a) this musical is incredibly mainstream and overrated go away, or b) is a musical about a failed French revolution which includes prostitution, suicide, child-blog-3death and the word ‘miserable’ in its title really the thing to see at Christmas? If you’re an a) you might as well skip to the next suggestion, because I’m not ashamed to be mainstream, where Les Mis is concerned. I will never stop loving this musical. If b) YES. With the political shitstorm going on at the moment, everyone needs a bit of classic Les Mis ‘Do You Hear The People Sing’ inspiration over the Christmas break. The finale will give you the same kind of happy-sad-crying-feeling as the end of Love Actually.

Queens Theatre.

  1. The Play That Goes Wrong

Peter Pan Goes Wrong too festive for you?blog-4 Go to see Mischief Theatre’s original, so successful that it’s even transferring to Broadway next year. You can see my full review here, but a quick summary:
hilarious family-friendly farce which gets you involved from the moment you step inside the theatre. The characters-within-characters are fully recognisable to anyone who’s dipped their toe into amdram at any point in their life. My mum and brothers went to see this on my recommendation and absolutely loved it. Now’s the time to see it, so you can look ahead-of-the-crowd to any American friends you might have – and it’s the perfect piece of non-festive fun.

Duchess Theatre

  1. Jersey Boys

The last musical on the list, and one with its own blockbuster movie attached. blog-2But the live show is always better than the film, trust. Before seeing Jersey Boys, I had no idea how much incredible music Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons were responsible for (hint: it’s a lot). The story itself, of how the band formed and broke up over the years, is relatively interesting, and the way that each of the Four Seasons gets to tell their own part of the story is clever, but it’s ultimately the music that makes the show. One of the best jukebox musicals out there.

Piccadilly Theatre

  1. Nice Fish

Confession: I haven’t actually seen this yet.blog-2 I have tickets booked, however, and I feel like the combination comedy, Mark Rylance and fish costumes (if you turn up in one you can get free tickets!) is sure to be a good one. The reviews haven’t necessarily been overwhelming, but Rylance is bae so you’ll almost definitely see some great acting whatever the writing’s like.

Harold Pinter Theatre

 

You can find tickets to all these amazing shows on TheatreTickets.uk, who sponsored this post. Hopefully coming up soon, lists of the ultimate Christmassy shows to see, and my fav festive books, treats, music, TV shows and films… Not that I’m over-excited or anything…

elf