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Fishskin Trousers, Finsborough Theatre – Review

Elizabeth Kuti

Directed by Robert Price
Pros: Beautiful, subtle and thoughtful storytelling from three unique perspectives, each with an intriguing personal tale.
Cons: The accents were – at first – heavy-handed and difficult to understand. The narrative, although clever and intricate, did not quite click together as satisfactorily as it could have.
Our Verdict: A compelling story which, in trying to connect three seemingly disparate people through the ages, ends up brushing over plot points or making tentative references that do not bind the story together as magically as one would like.
Credit: Malcolm Crowthers
Whether you believe in it or not, folklore is always an enticing place to start in any medium of storytelling. Wrangling with the idea of whether this myth could have been true, at any given point in time, keeps us engaged as we try to simultaneously dispel and support the possibility of the mystery. This is where Elizabeth Kuti’s Fishskin Trousers loses me. The plot and the characters are fully fleshed and well thought out, making for engaging theatre. However, there are details – perhaps owed to an under developed ability to suspend disbelief on my part – that drain the possibility of truth and halt the story just short of being magical.
We begin in the twelfth century with Mab, a feisty servant in Orford Castle who takes it upon herself to feed a poor prisoner. The prisoner is a kind of human merman, caught in the nets of fishermen and hung by his feet in the dungeon. It is this fish shape in human form and its screeching cries that connect Mab to an Australian scientist in the 1970s (who is running away from a horrible incident of ‘fraternity hazing’ in the States by working in Orford Ness) and a depressive Orford teacher running away from her future in the early millennium.
The plot, the symbols and the connections between characters that span anywhere from thirty to hundreds of years, have obviously been laboriously thought through and are skillfully placed. But there are smaller details and larger instances that are meant to bind the story together and produce the necessary ‘a-ha’ moments that just miss the mark. While myths may be free from the rules of ‘the real world’, it must still make sense within its own sphere and, unfortunately in this instance, the details just did not come together. 
The small, intimate stage of the Finborough Theatre created a perfect atmosphere for a very intense tale, while performances of the passionate and three-dimensional characters by Brett Brown (the scientist), Jessica Carroll (Mab) and Eva Traynor (the teacher) were spot on. Director Robert price has created a gripping and well-timed piece.
Despite the story not being as fulfilling as anticipated, I would call this an excellent production as far as performance, direction and even story, goes. It holds the promise and components to properly make its mark as a tremendous piece of storytelling, but it needs an extra link in the chain of events and more credible and perhaps more unpredictable connections between the characters, to truly achieve this.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Fishskin Trousers runs at Finborough Theatre until 28 September 2013.
Box Office: 0844 847 1652 or

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