Park Theatre 17 October – 11 November. Reviewed by Claire Roderick
The idea of time as an expanding balloon, where events never disappear, just expand with spaces growing between them for new events to occur, is explained in gloriously geeky terms by one of the characters in Elizabeth Kuti’s Fishskin Trousers. The legend of the wild man of Orford, along with the cold war research station on Orford Ness are gifts for a talented writer, and Kuti plays with this theory of time and space to weave a spellbinding tale of three people linked by the Suffolk village of Orford.
Three people sit around a circle of beach debris, never interacting or even acknowledging each other’s existence. Mab (Jessica Carroll) tells her tale of the strange creature caught in the fishermen’s nets in the waters off Orford Ness in the twelfth century, and how she felt a connection with the creature and volunteered to feed him. In 1973, scientist Ben (Brett Brown) relates information about his work on a secret radar system with a wide-eyed grin before admitting his confusion about aural interference that sounds like a scream. In 2003, local girl Mog (Eva Traynor) returns to Orford on the eve of her 30th birthday with a huge decision weighing her down after the end of her affair with a married man.
This production reunites the play’s original cast, and these actors know their characters inside out. The three interwoven monologues, staring slowly with Mab, soon build to a lyrical rhythm as the characters’ fates merge and their connections are revealed. All three are outsiders – Mab, unmarried and wild, with some beautifully nuanced pointers to her own ASD; Ben eager to project capability and confidence, but haunted by the death of his Stanford roommate; and Mog, suffering from depression, chasing unhealthy relationships but only really connecting with the children she teaches. Carroll makes the most of the showiest role with the most poetic language – full of twitches and a lilting old Suffolk accent that sweeps you along on her wave of words. Brown’s light comedic touches as Ben will make you fall a little bit in love with the character (like an Australian Raj Kuthrapali) and choke up in his final scene. Traynor is measured and convincing as Mog, racking up the growing despair in each monologue with consummate skill.
Kuti excels in giving each character a different voice and rhythm, and switching between characters at just the right moments, dropping hints and echoed words into the next monologue. Director Robert Price Keeps the feel of a tale told at a fireside – there is little movement, just wonderfully expressive acting, and for a story about strange noises, there is a very effective lack of sound after the wind and gulls as the audience take their seats. Instead there is simply a picture of a sonar reading dominating the stage, and the eerie descriptions of sound by the characters.
This is storytelling at its best, leaving you feeling as if you’ve been curled up with a wonderful book for the past 90 minutes when the lights come up. It is like Jackanory (in its glory days) for adults – a magical story told with passion and charm by talented performers.