The sea’s engulfing capacity to dwarf human beings makes it a perfect metaphor for souls lost in loneliness and overwhelmed by despair. Maritime and nautical terms such as ‘rudderless’, ‘being all at sea’; ‘marooned’; ‘drowning in sorrow’; ‘unanchored’; ‘plumbing the depths’ manage to chime with the fear and bewilderment of desolation. And it is this sense of solitary abandonment that is the theme of the latest production from Edinburgh based theatre company Tortoise in a Nutshell, working in collaboration with Danish company Teater Katapult.
Tortoise in a Nutshell is a young award winning theatre company best known for its innovative use of puppetry and have never shied from presenting challenging issues and since their formation in 2010. In a departure from their usual style, they have with Fisk chosen to give the two performers Alex Bird (Man) and Arran Howie (Fish) prominence in this devised piece of physical theatre. Puppetry features, but does take centre stage.
In this highly visual almost wordless and quite beautiful production, a solitary man dressed in drained shades, stands trembling and desperate in what looks like a white origami boat in a white sea made of a giant billowing duvet impressively designed by Ana Ines Jabares-Pita. He has a sudden surreal encounter with a Fish who offers tea, disco dancing and aerobics that bring bright colours and sounds to his otherwise bleached and washed out world.
Fisk manages in its hour’s performance to go through the raw agonising gamut of love to loss, where the very support that’s needed is driven away through thoughtless cruelty resulting in despair and loneliness. They achieve this not least through the soulful piano and cello sounds composed by Jim Harbourne that create such a stunning atmosphere along with lighting from Simon Wilkinson that reflects the shifting moods so effectively, from the cold icy blue of separation to the warm hues of shared joy.
Under movement direction from Darren Brownlie, Alex Bird gradually shifts from being reluctant and awkward to being an enthusiastic and co-ordinated mover as he follows the lead of Arran Howie his fantasy fish. His joining in is another brilliant metaphor for his journey to being part of the world again. Both Bird and Howie have stepped out of the shadows to be full blown performers without abandoning their puppetry skills that they so skilfully show with a live paper puppet creation and miniature parallels of the human action going on throughout. They portray sadness and happiness through sheer physicality, comedic skills and few words. Yet when he visualises his own drowning towards the end of the piece, it is the puppetry skills that touchingly take centre stage.
As black objects appear on his body, it is difficult to tell at first whether the Man has been tagged or if he is being clung to by limpets, but it is the agonising frustration of their presence that impacts most strongly.
Tortoise in a Nutshell and Teater Katapult, under the skilful direction of Ross MacKay, have created a gorgeous piece of thought-provoking theatre about a man who is rescued from the depths when he is teetering on the edge. It contains both hope and salvation as well as the vital importance of connection with something beyond yourself - even if it’s with a fish.
Fisk opened at Teater Katapult, Aarhus, Denmark in October 2016 and had its UK Premiere as the opening show on 28th January at this year’s Manipulate Festival 2017.
Traverse Theatre Edinburgh 28 Jan
Eden Court Inverness 1 Feb
Lemon Tree Aberdeen 3 Feb
Traverse Theatre Edinburgh 9 - 11 Feb
Perth 14 Feb
Eastgate Arts Centre 16 Feb
Platform Glasgow 20 Feb age recommend 12+