A Kettle of Fish
The Yard Theatre
Reviewed – 27th September 2018
“plays with how we experience theatre in a really interesting way, but doesn’t succeed in using these features to their full potential within the piece”
We are handed headphones as we walk into the theatre, that I test as I wait for the show to start. The music is a cheerful, nondescript jazz piano piece. The Yard’s stage has been divided into three in a box-like setting designed by Ingrid Hu. Stage right a living room, neat and clean, centre stage an airplane, and stage left a gauze box that is being projected upon.
Lisa is going on a business trip. She is leaving her house, her beautiful house, in the care of her dad who, on the morning of her departure, has managed to fill her with “active disgust”. After interactions like this she likes to imagine unscrewing her head and replacing it with a different head so that she can see through different eyes. She is on her way to a country whose habits she has studied in great depth, but suspended above the ground, she is delivered some terrible news about her life back home.
Brad Birch’s latest play examines grief, loss of control and connection, via a well-crafted descension into surrealism, though for me this could’ve begun earlier, as this is where the play really comes into its own. Too much of the piece feels like a waiting game and risks feeling one note at points.
Wendy Kweh plays Lisa in this one-woman piece. She delivers a fantastically strong performance, committed and full of mounting anxiety, creating the other characters around her with skill and precision.
The design is visually and conceptually stunning, however it is not used to its full potential. The projections feel underused, and inconsistent in their design. They lack a feeling of cohesion. The lighting design (Joshua Gadsby) feels unsubtle, the changes too obvious. Max Pappenheim’s soundscape, which accompanies the show via our headphones, works really well predominantly but the whispering vocals add an unnecessary touch of melodrama to what is otherwise a very genuine and relatable situation.
A Kettle of Fish is a brave and exciting production directed by Caitlin McLeod, that plays with how we experience theatre in a really interesting way, but doesn’t succeed in using these features to their full potential within the piece. The writing and the production are carried by a stunning performance from Wendy Kweh.
Reviewed by Amelia Brown
Photography by Helen Murray
A Kettle of Fish
The Yard Theatre until 13th October
Previously reviewed at The Yard Theatre:
Returning to Haifa
Reviewed – 1st March 2018
“this is at heart a very human story that unleashes powerful emotions”
You know you have witnessed something special at the theatre when there is an almost imperceptible beat, right at the end, just before the audience applauds. That split second speaks volumes.
“Returning to Haifa” is a compelling story of two families, one Palestinian, one Israeli, forced into an intimacy they did not choose. In 1948, Said and Safiyya fled their home during the Palestinian exodus. A series of laws passed by the Israeli government prevented them from returning until nearly twenty years later when the borders are open again. Returning to their home in Haifa in 1967 the couple are prepared to find someone else living in their former home. What they are not prepared for is the reconciliation with their son who they were forced to abandon, in the chaos and violence of their escape, when he was five months old. Now twenty years old he has been raised as an Israeli Jew – in short, his parents’ enemy.
Adapted for the stage by Naomi Wallace and Ismail Khalidi from Ghassan Kanafani’s novella, this production is an electrifying eighty minutes of theatre. The background against which it is set may steer the story into a form of agitprop, which for some might be off-putting. However, this is at heart a very human story that unleashes powerful emotions. Following the couple’s return, with flashbacks into their past, the narrative is fluid and the interconnection between past and present expertly conveyed. Myriam Acharki as Safiyya and Ammar Haj Ahmad as Said embrace the characters’ prospect at returning home with genuine trepidation. In parallel, Leila Ayad and Ethan Kai play their younger selves. The effect is haunting. The actors have nowhere to hide in the Finborough’s intimate space, and each shift of emotion is precisely conveyed in the performances.
The end result is thought provoking, disturbing and memorable. The beauty of the writing lies in the amalgam of the political and the personal; the connection between individual and global struggles. This is brought to the fore when the couple finally meet their son. Acharki gives a spellbinding portrayal of the birth mother meeting the adoptive mother, with echoes of the ‘Judgement of Solomon’. Marlene Sidaway plays Miriam, the Jewish woman who raised the boy having lost her own son to the Holocaust, with a perfectly judged empathy while Ethan Kai who doubles as Dov, the grown up son, is heart wrenching in his rejection of his natural parents.
You don’t need to be au fait with the conflict, historical or current, to appreciate this play, yet it does give you a better understanding of the situation than the countless column inches and broadsheet analysis do. This is theatre as it should be. Theatre that is raw, that challenges the way we think about the world. As Naomi Wallace has said: “Even if you disagree with the voices, they still deserve to be heard”. Kanafani was silenced when he was assassinated at the age of thirty-six, but this adaptation helps his legacy to live on. Originally commissioned in New York but subsequently abandoned after political pressure, it is no surprise at all that this premiere at the Finborough is selling out fast.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Scott Rylander
Returning to Haifa
Finborough Theatre until 24th March