Sunday, 22 October 2017

Review Fishskin Trousers

A beguiling tale, drawing on folk myth and 20th century history, alternately intrigues and frustrates reviewer Peter Barker.  

Fishskin Trousers
by Elizabeth Kuti

Catching The Waves

Fishskin Trousers weaves together a trio of monologues from three characters spanning hundreds of years .

Mab (Jessica Carroll) is a medieval serving woman in a castle on the East Anglian coast who develops a fascination for a wild supernatural creature which the local fishermen trap in their nets.

Ben (Brett Brown) is a 1970s' Australian scientist, haunted by his past, working to combat the Soviet threat during  the Cold War. Yet he begins to wonder whether there is a supernatural reason for the strange noises interfering with a radar system.

Hauling the play into the net of our times,  Mog (Eva Traynor) is a teacher from the current century who finds herself having to make a tough decision after a love affair ends unhappily. Yet her tale also unwittingly echoes and is inextricably linked with the past.   

Their voices all emerge from the same location - the real-life Sussex fishing village of Orford and mysterious island of Orford Ness. 

Each character from a different era era shares his or her experience with the audience, psychologically and physically separate from each other, yet intertwined.

Fishskin Trousers weaves together myth, psychology and history to give a sense of the uncanny combined with earthy personal dilemmas. However the dependence on storytelling alone proves a double edged sword.    

This production, a revival of the play's première four years ago when it achieved considerable success with the same director and cast, has an ingenious idea at its heart and poignant moments.

The play seeks to map out the psychic geography of three emotionally lost people's lives, as well as evoking the physical atmosphere swirling around them.

Nevertheless it does feel very static, which also emphasizes the unevenness within the drama, breaking the mystery and the poetic language's spell.

The archaic language with  thick local accent of the servant Mab does rather distract, bordering on parody, although Jessica Carroll's performance is undoubtedly characterful.

There are also strong performances from Brett Brown as researcher Ben and Eva Traynor as tormented schoolteacher Mog. 

The staging is minimal, a boulder enclosed by a circle of shingle with the lone additon of a visual soundwave on the backdrop. The unravelling of the stories do draw the audience in but for me, it felt like a play more suited to radio.

The resolution is neat, ingenious and satisfying with the qualities of a good ghost story. But the monologues sometimes seem unbalanced with, for example, the opening monologue from Mab being very long.

Overall, this felt like a very promising rather than a fully achieved set of monologues and play. It  might also have been interesting to bring in more choreography.

There was much to admire but my interest in the characters waxed and waned like the sound and sea waves and it's an amber light.   

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