Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Nice Fish; the Sewing Group

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Nice Fish; the Sewing Group

Article excerpt

An ice floe. Two anglers. Months to kill. That's the premise of Nice Fish by Mark Rylance and Louis Jenkins. The off-beat script is full of bleak and quirky insights. Rylance, who stars as the bungling Ron, admits that sometimes he gets so bored he bangs nails through frozen bananas. His pal compares dogs with wolves by observing that wolves are pessimists, jaws low to the ground, like homeless scavengers, whereas dogs are chin-up go-getters, natural corporate players, keen to win promotion in a worldwide enterprise called 'Man's Best Friend'. There's a piece of obsessively nerdy rhetoric about 36-hour fishing permits which sounds like Peter Cook at his best. These treats appear early on. We're offered some decent slapstick, too, as the fishermen get caught in a hurricane. Butter-fingered Rylance drops his phone into the lake and he suffers amusing difficulties with a collapsing tent. The surrealism becomes explicit when two stage hands enter and clear away some abandoned bits and bobs. Then a policeman surfaces through an ice hole, his clothes quite dry. A young beauty arrives claiming to have access to a sauna. Will she spark any romantic interest? No.

The false starts and the rambling plot-lines generate smaller and smaller rewards. The play has no coherence, no point of culmination. Certainly no depth. And despite its verbal ingenuity, the script is nothing more than an anthology of oddball rumination spoken by five wintering deadbeats enjoying an improvised frost fair. The play is bound to thrive commercially because of Rylance's hilarious persona as a semi-derelict philosopher, an angelic sage who unwittingly delivers incisive truths. He's endlessly watchable. And he's one of the few actors who can turn a play from the slush pile into a hit. But this undemanding and underwritten frivolity may bring complaints that he's got his priorities mixed up. Instead of entertaining us he's just entertaining himself.

E.V. Crowe's new play begins as a sweat-shop costume drama. A group of seamstresses are stitching away in a scout hut in the 1700s. Seated on low stools, the bumpkin-ettes speak inanely about sewing, farming and chilly winters. One, named C, is a newcomer. Another, D, is soon to be married. But already something is amiss. The needle-workers keep using modernisms like 'soul mate', 'gluten-free' and 'love interest'. And they come from all corners of the British Isles. There's a northerner, a Londoner and two Scots. How did this cosmopolitan group wind up stitching samplers in an olde-worlde shack? …

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