King’s Head Theatre
Reviewed – 17th April 2018
“A tighter play might have lent a much-needed weight to the darker central theme of depression”
The writer’s note for Jenna Kamal’s Fishbowl reminds us of a haunting fact: the biggest killer of men under forty five in Britain is suicide. In a world where masculinity is explicitly linked to strength, and emotion explicitly linked to weakness, she argues we are creating a generation of men who are unable to handle complex emotions and routinely suffer the consequences. With Fishbowl, she stages a careful study of this alarming notion.
George and Hatty are neighbours and sometime lovers. One morning at 4 a.m., George calls Hatty complaining of a leak in his ceiling. She thinks that it’s just an excuse for sex, but as the play unfolds, it is clear something much darker is on George’s mind.
In the opening moments of the show the actors’ delivery does feel somewhat stilted, but as they settle into the performance, the characters come alive. Nick Cope skilfully handles George’s transition from comedy to tragedy; slowly his stubborn attitude slips away, revealing deeper troubles which he can barely admit to himself. Felicity Green’s Hatty starts in a slightly forced register, but once the play is up and running, she likewise settles in to its emotional rhythms.
The stage design is spacious and efficient – sofa, table, chair – and gives the actors plenty of room to stretch their legs but can sometimes add an unusual distance between the pair, even though they’re supposed to be (semi-) romantically involved. This distance also appears to be implicit in the writing, though it is not always clear why.
In general, Kamal’s dialogue is warm and witty. In fact, it is often hilarious; on several occasions, George and Hatty’s combative relationship gets genuine big laughs from the audience. George’s quixotic attempts to deal with his leak and his inability to avoid argument demonstrate Kamal’s capability with comedy. However, this does sometimes overshadow the play’s more serious overall message, and one can’t help the feeling that some of the comedic sequences could have been trimmed. A tighter play might have lent a much-needed weight to the darker central theme of depression. There is also a sense that George and Hatty are at arm’s length with each other, despite their romantic relationship. This is partially because of George’s inability to really deal with emotion, but nonetheless feels at odds with the plot. A brief kiss between them towards the end suddenly reminds us just how unromantic they have been, despite the undeniable affection between them.
However, in spite of a few slightly-too-lengthy sequences, Kamal’s story is considered and her characters sympathetic. The isolation that many young people suffer today, especially in big cities, is made all too painfully clear. Conversation may well be the best form of confrontation, and with Fishbowl, Kamal makes a powerful point.
Reviewed by Harry True
Photography by Erin Blackmore
King’s Head Theatre until 21st April