Nice Fish - 25 November 2016 Review

an ardently funny, enigmatic caper in the cold

A freezing Minnesota lake, two fisherman and a light up neon palm tree. That’s the premise of Mark Rylance and poet Louis Jenkins’ new play, Nice Fish. Part duologue, part soliloquy and part existential crisis, Nice Fish is a surreal mix between an arctic Waiting for Godot and that episode of Friends where Joey’s play ends with him going up on a spaceship – but surprisingly, that’s no bad thing.

It’s a peculiar style of acting; naiveté mixed with candour. It begins bleakly, with melancholic monologues delivered briskly and without much intonation, which, bizarrely, makes it all the more amusing and makes you listen even harder. Pieced together are parts of Jenkins’ poetry and Rylance’s own philosophical ponderings. Why are we here? What are we here for? Who will notice when we’re gone?

Mark Rylance is the sort of actor who doesn’t need to do much to get the audience on side. Here, he speaks in a slow southern drawl, stumbling over words with a wide-eyed innocence that has you laughing at a simple nod or eyebrow raise. Partnered with Jim Lichtscheidl, the pair are Ron and Erik, a fishing duo out on the lake to catch a bite. It’s a sparky dynamic; Rylance’s tom-foolery plays well against Lichtscheidl’s exasperated fisherman, and there is laughter in the auditorium from the off.

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Claire van Kampen directs with a sure hand, vamping up the comedic moments (cue a runaway tent and a deplorably saucy sandwich), but also ensuring moments of lull, of rest, to take in the rather wordy dialogue spouted throughout the piece. There is excellent support from Raye Birk and Bob Davis, with a zany performance from Kayli Carter as Flo. It’s a mismatch of personalities, and you never fully find out how everyone seems to know each other, but it never really seems to matter.

All of this is set against Todd Rosenthal’s backdrop of a large, white sheet of ice, quirky bright lights, mini puppets and some giant fishing hooks, complimented by Japhy Weideman’s designs that light the stage to great effect, using snappy blackouts to drive the action forward, creating a disjointed myriad of scenes that aptly erases all of sense of time. For most of the show, you have no idea what’s going on, but not knowing what to expect makes it all the more exciting.

“I didn’t get it”. Not only a line uttered in the play, but heard amongst audience members as they departed the theatre. The key is that you didn’t need to “get it”, you just needed to hear it. Wrapped up in the snow and high-vis orange snowsuits is a wonderment for the largeness of the world, hinting that whilst Nice Fish is an ardently funny, enigmatic caper in the cold, there’s something a lot more sinister lurking under the ice.

star-rating-4.0

Reviewed by Susannah Rose Martin.
25 November 2016, Harold Pinter Theatre