Saturday, September 28, 2013

the (very) sad fish lady

the (very) sad fish lady conceived, written and directed by Joy McDonald.  At The Street Theatre - Street Two, Canberra, September 28 – October 5, 2013.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
September 28

Between a rock and a hard place, there are laid out across the dividing waters stepping stones to this highly imaginative piece of folk theatre.

On the Rock lives a Greek grandmother alone with her chicken.  On the Mediterranean island of a Hard Place live people who are never happy – not enough olives, not enough rain, too much rain, too windy.  They tread gingerly over the stepping stones – too many of them, of course – to have coffee with the Fish Lady, so that she can read the pictures in the coffee grounds and tell them their fortunes.

But her own fortune is sad – so sad that even her chicken stops laying her daily egg – because her children live far away across the sea in Australia and she has never seen her little grandaughter.

In her imagination she becomes a fish who could swim to the other side of the world, but it is the mysterious boatman, Mister Moustache – pronounced Moustaki – who sees her sadness and magically brings her family to visit.  Their coffee grounds all present the same picture.  She will travel across the sea with them all the way to Australia – and so she does.

Though the chicken is so happy for her that she lays three eggs in one day, I was not sure about the chicken’s future – hopefully to cheer up the people of the Hard Place.

Over the years I have seen too much slick entertainment for young children.  I have called Joy McDonald’s work folk theatre because, without pretension or the veneer of commercialism, her puppets, images and sound track tell a personal story of our times for the children of our multicultural families.  Her puppeteers, Ruth Pieloor and James Scott, put on no airs while their expertise is evident not only in operating complex string puppets, hand puppets, shadow puppets and even a boat with a puppet, Mister Moustache, apparently pulling oars that really move – as well as the sad and later the smiling moon.

It is, of course, the clever design work of Imogen Keen and Hilary Talbot that makes all this possible.  I guess, in the world of art criticism, the devices and imagery in the (very) sad fish lady might be called naїve art, but that’s exactly right for 3-5 year-olds.  And with music by David Pereira and dramaturgical support from Richard Bradshaw, it’s obvious that this folk art theatre, as I think I should call it – like naїve art – is certainly not unsophisticated.  Nor slick.  Nor commercial.

the (very) sad fish lady is genuine storytelling, fascinating for the littlies and equally amusing and significant for their parents.  Highly recommended.


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