Nice Fish – Review

Nice Fish. Images Teddy Woolf
Nice Fish. Images Teddy Woolf

Two men sit over a hole drilled out of the Minnesota ice and fish. In-between they drink beer, discuss life and ponder their surroundings.

No, it’s not the set-up for a joke – although it turns out that it possibly could be. If Mark Rylance is angling after another success then the audience has well and truly taken the bait with his oddball, kooky – nay – barking mad, comedy, Nice Fish, that has just opened at London’s Harold Pinter Theatre.

Absurd? Madcap? Surreal? Yes, all of those things. Samuel Beckett would have been proud of this bizarre story set in the emptiness of an icy wilderness where we find two men fishing. Or, at least, one man is dangling his small quivering rod, earnestly hoping for a nibble, and Rylance’s Ron is keeping him company.

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It is less Waiting For Godot and more Waiting for Minnow.

If only it were that simple. This crazy comedy, which Rylance wrote using the prose poetry of Louis Jenkins, superficially probes male-bonding and friendship before taking the audience off on a tangent, onto a weird journey into the unknown.

Is this a yearning for wide open spaces, and some semblance of adventure, borne from the aching dullness of office life – or are we watching reality created from the fevered imagination of a poet? It really is best to go with the floe (sic).

In the programme notes Rylance says: “What is this play about? I don’t know.” Well, if he doesn’t then it doesn’t bode well for the rest of us.

Nice Fish is an ice fishing expedition where the ordinary and extraordinary collide. Ron and Erik play the odd couple, whose ordinary lives are comically exposed in this sublimely playful, profound and very funny play.

But don’t try to make sense of it. It you’re writing absurdist comedy then pretty much anything goes. It’s so gloriously potty that it is best to just watch and laugh at the men’s antics.

Mark Rylance has created yet another unique stage character to follow in the footsteps of Jerusalem’s eccentric Rooster Byron.

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Ron, dressed in day-glo orange with a red anorak and trapper hat, is prepared for anything. But it doesn’t appear that fishing is high on his list of priorities.

His pal, Erik (his straight-man, the wonderfully deadpan Jim Lichtscheidl) has come equipped to land a whopper but all he catches is earache from Ron’s incessant chatter and playfulness.

But there’s not much going on in Ron’s brain. He’s is pretty vacant. Ask him a question and it will take ten minutes to answer as he reels off lists of people, places, things. Ron likes a list. He’s rather OCD in that way.

He gets bored easily. So he drinks, makes a snowman, lies on the ground to create a snow angel, drops his phone down a hole in the ice, and irritates the hell out of Erik.

Then a countryside cop turns up (Bob Davis) spouting bylaws and rights and demanding cash for permits to fish. It’s officialdom at its most ridiculous.

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Things turn really fishy when a girl appears from a shack. Flo (Kayli Carter) is a bit of a hippy chick, completely under-dressed for the Arctic-style sub-zero temperatures. She seems as peculiar as Ron.

And then spear-hunter Wayne appears, carrying his trident. Mutton-chopped Raye Birk plays one more oddball to join the mis-matched crew on the ice.

Director Claire Van Kampen has engaged the services of Sarah Wright to come up with some teeny, tiny puppets, a miniature train and a couple of small ice shacks which all look like they’ve been snaffled from a department store’s Christmas window display.

But they help to put everything in perspective – literally. Moments after seeing the small puppet girl, we see a full sized version and, later still, a regular sized sofa.

It’s frustrating and irritating that the stage is blacked out every few minutes to represent a passing of time and annoying, for the front two rows of the stalls, that they must be missing a lot of the story or else suffer a cricked neck craning upwards to see over the high stage and raised set.

But for the rest of us this eccentric fishy fantasy reels us in and keeps audiences on the end of its rod, wriggling with mirth.

Nice Fish runs at the Harold Pinter Theatre until February 11.

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