Adelaide Festival 2017 Theatre Review: Wot? No Fish!!

screen-shot-2017-03-06-at-10-53-34-amDanny Braverman in Wot? No Fish!!

What: Wot? No Fish!!

Who: Bread&Circuses, a collaboration between Danny Braverman and Nick Philippou

Where: AC Arts Main Theatre

When: Until the 7th of March

Danny Braverman recounts the story of his great-aunt Celie and great-uncle Ab Solomon. It is a history of small lives writ large. And it is a love story.

The story starts with fish balls and sauce, which like all good Jewish food and stories, are to be shared. And Danny Braverman is a consummate sharer of his family story. He recounts how one day his mother gave him several shoeboxes, containing thousands of wage packets, given to his great-aunt Celie by her husband Ab. The magic of these artefacts lies in the fact that the envelopes all have a small picture drawn on them by Ab, depicting their lives together. Each one is a small, exquisite work of art, contextualised eloquently for us by Braverman, as he sits at a table and projects the pictures one-by-one onto a screen for the audience to see.

For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, the wage packet is a small envelope containing the notes and coins that made up a worker’s weekly earnings. As Ab Solomon, a shoemaker, prepared the envelopes for his workers, he also created a special one to take home for Celie, and through careful curating by Braverman, we follow their intricate dance of love and life from 1926 to 1982.

Love is evident at the beginning, just as it was at the end, but in between there are dark moments. The couple lived in the East End of London, where they had both grown up. They had two children, one of whom was severely disabled. As the war approached, they were intensely worried about Hitler and his intentions regarding Jews. Ab’s family had been refugees who had escaped the pogroms in Lithuania earlier in the twentieth century. But Celie dealt stoically with the reality of war-time living in London, and the heartbreaking separation from her children.

Some of these tiny pictures represent huge world events, whilst others are domestic and intimate. Celie loves to dress well, and longs to change her scruffy husband. There are bed-scenes, alluding to intimacy, but also suggesting difficult times in their marriage. Some aspects of their story are tragic, not least when they make the decision to place their disabled and epileptic son in an asylum. Despite their weekly visits, a sense of futility hangs over them and permeates the small pictures. “You can go home now” states their son, more than once. His death is just one of their hurdles. Another is Celie’s illnesses. During one hospital stay, Ab draws himself altering some graffiti from “Go Home Yank” to “Come Home Celie”. He can’t bear to be apart from her, and this is after all a tale of love.

I cannot recommend this show strongly enough. It is funny and sad, beautiful and ugly, large yet domestic. At the end of the show the audience can walk down onto the stage and see the tiny envelopes up close. If you can’t get to see Wot? No Fish!!, watch the photo-film of the show.  Did I mention that this is a love story?

4 1/2 stars

– Maggi Boult

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