Brighton Fringe 2009
Red Sea Fish
Two Bins Theatre Company
Venue: Pavilion Theatre
Festival: Brighton Fringe
Ray White mourns the death of his wife and only has his son Terry to look after him when he’s ill. When Terry brings a girl home, she invokes a powerful connection with Ray that brings back memories of his wife – for she has many similarities to her. Over a short time period, all their lives will change in many ways.
A simple stage set up awaited us as we entered the auditorium – that of a living room with a chair, sofa, piled up newspapers, a table with a photo on it and slippers underneath. A very normal looking scenario one might think, but as the audience discovered that evening, it wasn’t the case. We were woken out of our apathy by the sound of agonised screaming off stage with the sea as a background to it as the lights went down. A good image was used with the solitary figure of Ray facing the window, drawing the audience in. When he turned round, the first bit of laughter was seeing a lot of cream all over his face to heal him from sunburn. It’s the way that it’s applied that makes the audience snigger. But it’s not just the visual gags that draw the audience into the story, it’s the subtle one liners that Tim Blissett and Matthew Haughton deliver in their father and son banter. It ascertains the connection they have, but at the same time we also get to see the awkwardness develop between them, indicating there’s something else lurking in the background.
The first two scenes take quite a bit of time to warm up the action and are unpredictable in the direction they take, so in that respect it was difficult to follow at first. On top of that, the diction needed to be worked on as some of the words were lost – ie, when there was a good comedy moment, the emphasis on the words weren’t made enough of. Also, the strong accents they had sometimes made words fuse with each other and the audience couldn’t quite make out what was being said.
However, from the third scene onwards with Karen in tow (played brilliantly by Janna Fox), the pace and the feel completely changes. From this seemingly comfortable set up, it becomes a dangerous game all three characters are stuck in.
The plot becomes clearer as we see Ray and Karen become close and the change in Terry becomes evident. Here Matthew Haughton shines as he changes from the meek and mild son to someone who is more mature than he lets on. As the play progresses, we see that he is more central to this story than we think. His emotional journey as he slowly but surely reveals the truth behind his father’s madness – especially as Ray is revealed as someone who twists the truth ever so slightly to make his life more exciting than it actually is. Matthew handled this role with such dexterity and class and is most definitely an actor to watch out for in future productions.
But what really made this play work well was the balance between comedy and drama. At the same time though, the technical side of the show really showed the surrealistic side of the plot, especially whilst the scenes changed, we saw a flood of red light and the actors changing their positions in a robotic manner. This could possibly indicate the disruptive fragility of the mind as it disintegrates into chaos as well as the real intentions behind the characters as they evolve. A particular example of the great use of lighting that stood out for me was when Ray was talking to his dead wife’s photograph. He says one version of a memory he has to Terry, but then when he’s alone and drinking himself into oblivion, he reveals part of the real memory to the picture. As he does this, the lights dim and focus more on him, giving a menacing feel to the scene before Terry interupts his flow. Tim Blissett in these moments handles the madness well and gives a mesmerising performance as he goes more and more into himself.
Janna Fox as Karen brings a certain edge to the show. She is an unpredictable character with a past of her own – possibly as a prostitute. This is indicated when she says she ‘fucked for cigarettes’. But what makes her interesting is the way she plays the father and son against each other. She gives this impression at first of being a young innocent girl of twenty, but as the plot progresses, it soon becomes evident she’s a player. The subtle shift from light hearted to dominant woman is handled extremely well and you know she’s in control when she wants to get to the heart of Ray – the immortal words ‘tell me everything’ sum up her persuasion techniques. But is she genuine? Or a manipulator?
This is definitely a show that is worth seeing. Fringe Review wish Two Bins theatre company all the luck in the world when they take this show to Brits off Broadway soon.