Liam Alexandru on Camden Fringe bound play, Late Night Fish
Shipwreck Productions’ Late Night Fish promises us more than a passing nod to Harold Pinters’ The Dumb Waiter, as a pair of ‘Waste Management experts’ head to the lakes to dispose of a package. We think we can all guess what that means!
We’re always in the market for someone to help us dispose of any reviewers who don’t do what they are told though, so we thought we’d get along to meet up with Shipwreck’s Liam Alexandru to find out more about the play and whether they are looking for a little extra work, no questions asked.
Shall we start with the most obvious; by “waste management business” can we safely assume the package is going to be about the size of a body, possibly wrapped up in a big rug?
A BIG RUG! Why didn’t I think of that? I think it is absolutely safe to assume the package is large and the size of a body. Specifically, according to Tony, one of our two “disposal men”, this “package” is roughly 110kg’s and about 6 ft tall.
The play’s inspired by Pinter’s’ The Dumb Waiter – for those of us unfamiliar with that story, what are the connections?
So Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter follows two hitmen, Ben and Gus, as they sit waiting in a basement for the next “assignment” to reveal itself. A very Waiting for Godot-esque piece where the two pass their time with nonsensical chatter, mind games and trivial stories which, all the while, has a deeper, menacing undertone, all building up to the big twist at the end. We also get to learn so much and yet so little from our characters which really conflicts us on who we’re routing for. We read the script and were blown away and knew we had to do something with it. We took on those same points, leaning into the dialogue, menace and character intimacy but not forgetting those moments for a little bit of comedy and real-world chat.
Are you big Pinter fans then? Is this your first foray into his work or has it featured in previous shows?
We’ve certainly read and watched some of his impressive rep, but this is our first time playing with it. One of our niches at Shipwreck is we like to create new work inspired by great previous works, be it a homage, parody or somewhere in-between. Call it copying but, as they say, there’s no such thing as an original story anymore ha-ha.
This originally started with our first two hander, Waiting for Mary (I’ll let you guess which play that’s inspired by) but rather than perform it we thought “well, what if those two characters were two stoner flatmates in London and all the nonsensical chatter comes from a modern, hazy brained place?” We essentially repeated this process with the Dumb Waiter but incorporating it with our love for the gangster genre.
The Dumb Waiter takes place in a basement, are you moving your show to the lake then? Does this make the set quite easy, a nice rowing boat for the pair to sit and chat in?
So originally this piece came from the amalgamation of several ideas, including performing a play entirely set on a rowboat. The intimacy and lack of exits that that scenario brings is fascinating and brings up a lot of truth in conversation simply because the characters cannot escape. However, does that look pleasing? Will an audience want to watch a 2D play as two characters bicker in a tight boat setting for 30 minutes? So, alongside our boat trip out onto the lake, we decided to add the dock and create, as with so many two handers, a little bubble universe where this story solely takes place. That brought plenty of comedic and menacing moments we could exploit. Taking difficulty aside, we wanted to ensure that, however we present and set the play, it should be easy to read and manoeuvrable. All I’ll say is thank God for pallets…
I like to think you can take a lot of things away from this piece (a Dumbwaiter knock off being one, I’m prepping myself for “those” reviews) but this is absolutely a love letter to the gangster genre. This is a gangster story, first and foremost, with all the nuances, cliches and real-world facts. Not only are our two characters gangsters, who talk the talk and walk the walk, but they are themselves gangster film fans and refer to these films and the effect they have on gangster culture. We see our two killers discuss the likes of Scorsese and Tarantino, what’s fictional and what’s not, and making those links between the gangsters we think we know and the gangsters actually out there. And, of course, we couldn’t avoid the opportunity to throw in a few meta jokes here and there, take for example the character names, two of Pacino’s greatest gangster performances.
The play has already had good success at previous festivals, has this allowed you to develop it further? How much has changed from those original outings?
It really has and we’re so proud of the journey. This piece originally started as a recommendation after an amateur festival in the Midlands ibn 2018 where I immediately started scribbling down ideas. Then in 2020, just after we formed Shipwreck Productions but just before lockdown number one, we had a phone call from the same festival asking if we could bring something to the table after our success with Waiting for Mary. Ten days and countless gangster films later we had our original draft! That version went on to win several awards, including Best Play at the festival, and offer us our opportunity to publish the play and have it produced as an audioplay via The Grey Hill.
The piece has very much stayed true to its original draft but ever since we’ve been developing it in small ways, via constructive feedback and adjudication, adding small moments and new gags until low and behold here we are, with our most recent version at the Camden Fringe!
You’re playing at both Hen and Chickens and Canal Café, do you have to make adjustments for the different venues? Not tempted to take it outside Canal Café to, well, the canal?
Ha-ha, all I’m going to say about the last part is we’ve looked at the legalities of going up and down the canal in a blow-up boat, three-piece suits, a body bag and a megaphone…
Not really, we’ve performed the play now in a few different venues of various different sizes and requirements and really this piece is so adaptable, the staging looks complicated with its dual lake and dock setting but we’ve been able to make it work on large stages like the Albany in Coventry and smaller black box spaces. It’s just a case of finding the right layout for the right venue. Honestly speaking, a dream of ours for this piece would be to perform it site specific and play it out on and besides a real lake, I imagine it would ramp up the menace of the piece to 11. But that’s a performance for another day.
Ok, just between us, if we send along a reviewer we might need to get rid of, how easy would it be to get Michael and Tony to add them to their workload for the evening? Would you do it in exchange for a 5-star review?
I think as 5-star review would certainty tempt Michael and Tony into making two trips out onto the lake… but how easy it is on the other hand is another question. Without giving anything away, let’s just say disposing of a “package” isn’t as simple as it seems. For one, you need a boat…
Our thanks to Liam for his time. We’ll be in touch about that disposal if we need it!
You can catch Late Night Fish when it plays as part of Camden Fringe at the following venues:
The Hen and Chickens Theatre, 13 & 14 August
The Canal Cafe Theatre, 17 – 19 August.
Tickets for both venues are available here.