“Fisk” in the Byre Theatre: A preview

Photo: Byre Theatre

“Many men go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not just fish they are after.”

A man sails alone in a tiny boat, isolated and filled with despair. He prepares to jump into bottomless waters, when a beautiful fish leaps out and stops him. Bursting with energy, colour and joy, and armed with a sparkling sense of humour, the extraverted fish determines to change his course and save the fisherman’s life.

Fisk is brought to The Byre stage on 8 May by award-winning young theatre company Tortoise in a Nutshell. Formed in 2010, the Edinburgh-based company has already been recognised as “one of Scotland’s most innovative and versatile theatre companies,” and has received critical acclaim at the Fringe for The Last Miner (2010), Grit (2012), and Feral (2013). Their aim is to create theatre that inspires and ignites the imagination of its audiences, and their new production Fisk, superbly directed by Ross McKay, is another outstanding example of their work. Their largest piece to date, Fisk won an award for Outstanding Performance at the 2017 Kotorski Festival in Montenegro and has toured internationally to great success. Known for their immaculate attention to detail and extraordinary visual approach, this is the chance to see professional, cutting-edge theatre in action.

Described by the Sunday Herald as “a subtle and affecting portrait of a man on the brink,” Fisk is a thought-provoking investigation of mental breakdown, sensitively navigating themes of depression, support, and interconnection through a blend of psychological realism and fantasy. The story is simultaneously comic and meaningful, subtly satirising modern-day society and its attitudes towards mental illness while depicting the complex personal struggles of an individual suffering from isolation and despair. As the fisherman attempts to break out of his crippling inertia and hopelessness, the fish does everything in her power to keep him afloat. From suggesting yoga to offering tea, and even resorting to disco dancing, the fish represents the many questionable methods that society advocates as a “cure” to depression. Writer Anne-Sophie Oxenvad skilfully dismisses each approach, and through her depiction of a gradually intimate, heartfelt relationship between man and fish, she ultimately stresses the importance of simply having someone there.

Tortoise in a Nutshell has always been unafraid to tackle complex and difficult issues, and Fisk is no exception. The show provides a meditative insight into the ways in which depression impacts the lives both of those who suffer directly from the illness and of those who care about them.

Heightening this bold, poignant, and exceptionally moving narrative is a uniquely gorgeous visual display. Tortoise in a Nutshell combine breathtaking images, delicate puppetry, and choreographed movement to submerge audiences in an evocative, dreamlike marine landscape. Designer Ana Inés Jabares-Pita’s stunning set, which is rich in blue light and rippling fabric, provides an immense and alienating backdrop for the solitary fisherman in his little white boat. The shimmering scales of the evolving fish-woman’s costume brightens the bleak surroundings, and the intelligent lighting of Simon Wilkinson is crucial to presenting the atmospheric tone at any moment. Since much of the show consists of non-verbal communication, the visual elements and stirring original score (composed by Jim Harbourne and Darren Brownlie) are used explicitly to convey emotion. The highly visual and sonic innovation of Tortoise in a Nutshell sets Fisk apart as an artistically standout piece and a must-see production.

Fisk is an illustration of how hope can be found even in the darkest of oceans; an inspiring and memorable piece, this is not a production to miss.

Fisk is showing at The Byre theatre on 8 May 2018.