December 19, 2016
It’s been too long since we conducted a theatre review and what better way than to cast our eye over a festive West End treat starring an Oscar winning actor? True, Nice Fish isn’t all that Christmassy in terms of its subject matter but the play itself is about fishing in the snow and if snow isn’t Christmassy then what is?
Nice Fish is a light and amiable comedy that lurches from a sensible opening to absurdist humour over the course of its running time. Ostensibly it concerns the fishing efforts of Ron and Erik at the close of the ice fishing season. Ron (Mark Rylance) is clearly a novice who has bought all the gear so that he ‘fits in’ (though precisely whom he fits in with is up for debate as he and Erik appear to be the only men on the ice for miles), preferring to talk about his childhood and mucking around with a Big Mouth Billy Bass rather than do any actual fishing.
Erik (Jim Lichtsheidl) is a polar opposite; an experienced fisherman who is quite prepared to wait for his catch amidst the cold Minnesota wilderness and often shares his darker thoughts after a few more naïve offerings from Ron. They’re chalk and cheese, but somehow they find themselves together in the tundra, old friends just waiting for something to take the bait.
The play is written by Rylance and the poet Louis Jenkins, essentially basing the dialogue and much of the plot on Jenkins’ poetry over the decades. Rylance is a huge fan of Jenkins and often thanks him in his awards speech acceptances, so it was no surprise that the play would turn out to be just as bizarre as some of Jenkins’ previous work. There are moments here were the men ponder yellow and brown pills and why humans take them, old lunches from their childhood and Rylance even finds time to pretend to be a snowman. If you’ve ever wanted to watch an Oscar winning thespian show off his skills as a snowman then Nice Fish is the play for you!
Much of the dialogue is delivered in a stream of consciousness with no real plot to speak of and this is what marks Nice Fish out as a play to be enjoyed. Unfortunately the play is at its best when it is just Ron and Erik on the ice, but even a casual observer might note that it’ll be a struggle to get through ninety minutes with only the two of them. As it happens, other cast members eventually make their way into the wilderness including a litigious police officer, a spear fishing pensioner and his jovial granddaughter. It’s harsh to note that the play slows down when these characters arrive but it’s certainly true and there’s a sense of wishing we were back with just our favoured duo sharing their life experiences to whomever happens to be listening to the wind.
The acting from the cast is superb whilst there is also some puppetry, which is delivered beautifully (some of the sets hark back to Groundhog Day at the Old Vic). Of the supporting characters, it’s the police officer that delivers the most laughs and signals that the play is to move in another direction by revealing an illness from which he is suffering. It’s utterly strange and it depends a lot on the audience members as to whether they’ll run with Nice Fish from that moment on. Hint folks, it’s only going to get weirder! The finale calls to mind the end of Mike Bartlett’s Wild at Hampstead Theatre earlier this year and it seems this is a trend that is set to continue. It’s too easy to call the theatre style ‘meta’ but, well, that is what it is.
Nice Fish then is a journey to be enjoyed. It’s not the destination that is important, though it is certainly interesting by the time you reach it, but the life you enjoy en route to the final curtain call. It’s a hugely gratifying play, though how much you personally take from it is very much down to your sense of humour.
Nice Fish runs until 11th February. To find our more and to buy tickets, please check out the official website.
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