Edinburgh Fringe 2013
“Written and performed by Danny Braverman. Directed by Nick Philippou. In 1926 shoemaker Ab Solomons drew on the wage packet he gave to his wife Celie. Throughout their marriage, right up until the early 80s, Ab had drawn a wage packet cartoon every week for her. These cartoons, with blistering honesty, through all their ups and downs, chronicled Solomons’ family life. Danny Braverman’s solo show tells the funny and moving story of how he discovered the lost art of his great-uncle. Wot? No Fish! is an extraordinary story about love and art, history … and catering.” Oh there are free fish balls too.
Danny Braverman narrates a personal story from his own family by taking us through the cartoons drawn on simple wage slips found in an old dusty shoe box. And the substance of this discovery, as exciting and personal as History can get, is perfectly told by Braverman who gives it a subtle underplayed power that builds through the piece like a snowball gathering momentum.
The audience become drawn in deeper and deeper in surprise at this original story shown to us by Braverman that spans a lifetime of love, of babies, of romance, of poverty, of heartbreak, illness and of death. The audience is filled with emotion at the end, genuinely moved.
Braverman interprets and speculates on these cartoons, which would have been a private shared joke between Ab and his wife when he handed over his wage packet every week. He often comments on the relief Abe might have gained from the soothing repetition of this weekly task. A meditation on their lives, interjecting humour into the sometimes unbearable reality of being east End poor Jews living through Hitler’s dark cloud as well as the strains of poverty, marriage and babies and caring for an autistic son and little family support. Hearteningly, despite Ab’s often cutting caricatures of his ‘Cleopatra’ wife, yearning for the fineries in life that he – a ‘slump’ – couldn’t provide, these shared cartoons seem to portray a love that extends far beyond everyday annoyances and infallibilities. He always draws his wife with a red nose – which on some investigation Braverman deduces is a reference to their wedding day when Celie had an awful cold. There is something heartwarming about the fact that he saw his wife, even 60 years later, as beautiful and eternal and snotty nosed as on their wedding day. The playfulness of these cartoons also suggest a closeness between them that was never lost despite external difficulties, even laughingly drawing her with an L plate on her back at the Divorce courts – perhaps a fleeting cloud in their marriage. It takes a remarkable connection to name and accept each other’s human foibles and still feel the love and warmth this couple seemed to have, glowing impossibly out through this collection of dusty old wage slips. Their marriage isn’t smoozy or smaltzy…it represents everything that’s lovable about Jewishness – it’s bitter and sweet….cuttingly cruel at times but lovingly devoted…Ab shows with just a few little skilful strokes on little wage payslips…what a small picture can tell of the challenge of being human.
The venue is quite well adapted for this piece, the lighting is simple and effective, and barely any other technical effects are used apart from a good quality projector, which never fails. This piece is all the more powerful by the simple but measured storytelling, drawing our attention to little details – connecting up the threads, pausing for thought and reflection…allowing time to breathe it in…pointing out the humour as well as the bittersweet…the darkness and the light that Ab manages to bring into even the most desperate situations…and sometimes when humour has run out – the sad bleakness that comes through achingly loud. Ab had a real undiscovered gift as an Artist that, as a poor shoemaker, was never realised in his own lifetime. The subtle nuances of his cartoons are often genius, portraying a depth and poignancy to his own life and understanding of his fate.
What makes this show outstanding is its originality and powerfully simple storytelling. It teaches us about egoless creativity and shows us the possibilities of Art. “Brick by brick, he built his own cathedral”. Braverman hasn’t sensationalised this find nor has he made declarations of Artistic genius. Braverman holds this story tenderly and with consciousness. He tells us at the end that there are over 3000 cartoons spanning over 60 years – he didn’t show them all in the show – the selection of which ones to use for the show was a work of Art in itself. He interprets them lightly to stimulate our own individual responses. Braverman is a highly skilled, quietly present storyteller and can be paralled with Ben Haggerty for his ability to create a vividly tangible narrative. In other words he simply ‘shows’ – and this is the best kind of Art of all. This show makes us want to go away and create something ourselves, meaningful for our own lives and loved ones….but not with a focus on fame, or making money, or being the best at something…this is about doing something personal and truthful, building something over time magnificent and full of love, and this is a real gift that Braverman has brought to the Fringe this year.