Writer: Tortoise in a Nutshell and Anne Sophie Oxenvad
Director: Ross MacKay
Reviewer: Dominic Corr
The Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh is the heart of emerging talent and often a solemn home for conceptual productions others would raise eyebrows at. Tortoise in a Nutshell’s Fisk is one such show that benefits from Traverse’s embracement of the new.
Issues surrounding mental health and suicide are tragically topics which still require attention. Even today, in 2017, these are taboo subjects. While in an ideal universe these would no longer demand attention, productions like Fisk make us appreciate that they need it. Tortoise in a Nutshell and writer Anne-Sophie Oxenvad capture both attempts to help those suffering from depression, and also illustrate the bearer themselves without degrading or trivialising.
Told through the fragility of a paper boat, a lone man’s battle between his drive to end his pain and constant reminders and attempts to ‘cure’ him through a fishy friend. Inner voices induce a hatred and a way out for our nameless character played by Alex Bird. Reasons to live, attempts to fix the issues are never presented as answers by the fish but options and opinions.
At first, our self-proclaimed ‘annoying’ fish is rather, well, annoying. Loud, and tension breaking the part is carried out vexatiously by Arran Howie. Interrupting the scene, Howie bursts through the boat’s floor complete with flippers and grating vocals. This character is exactly what is intended, irritable. Slowly though we realise the purpose of such an obnoxious creature. Losing scales and fish eye, metamorphosing into the elegant Howie our annoying fish represents those methods society drives to help with depression. Beginning with the languished and all too often heard; “cheer up“. Yoga, clubbing and drinking. Even beautifully transitioning into simply someone being there. Never commenting on the effectiveness on any of them but instead presenting them as the social ‘norm’.
A boat, cast in the sea is a fragile crumpled piece of paper. Like our protagonist, and many of us, its rigidity to stay afloat reflects our own fragile attempts in such a vast endless ocean. Its surface is scarred, folded time and time again and soon defaced with a simple cry for “help“, in turn, rejected by its own writer out of frustration. Moments like these, so important in what seems like such small detail elevates Fisk into a production which grasps the issues around depression. Struggles with dependence and our own independence. A desire to be helped but to not burden or even seek. Fisk occupies a unique space explaining those growing dark knots many of us feel, metaphorically bursting and sinking our fragile paper boats. Yet, the rich colours of lighting designer Simon Wilkinson set against the viscous darkness offer a small glimmer of humane light.
Amid the puppetry, the fish scale leggings and compelling lighting, lurk a fine combination of understanding depression through both fantasy and realism. Regrettably, some of the fantasy outstretches condensed imagination. So many concepts and techniques are crammed into an hour. With such a slow and promising start our appreciation but frustrations are evident by cries for more in a rushed end. Both for clarity of the production but more so for ourselves.
Runs until 11 February 2017 | Image: Contributed