Mark Rylance Steals the Show in Nice Fish

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Nice Fish is a quirky little piece, so it’s a perfect match for its star man, Mark Rylance. And that shouldn’t be much of surprise as this small story of two middle-aged men, fishing at an ice hole in some obscure part of the American lakes in Minnesota, happens to be co-written by the Rylance too.

Ron (Mark Rylance) and Erik (Jim Lichtscheidl) are an odd couple. Ron is an eccentric, wittering on about absolutely nothing, and constantly bothering his mate, Jim, who was so looking forward to a quiet fishing experience out in the wilderness.

The chat is funny and it’s easy to laugh along. The scenes are short and snappy – lights up, and Ron is quietly dropping his beer cans into the ice holes on the sly, lights down; then it’s lights up again, and Erik is battling a hostile icy wind to assemble shelter. But is his mate helping? Of course not. We laugh, and lights go down again.

And so the play continues, deliberately meandering without much in the way of a plot. Much like life itself.

And that is exactly the point.

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Because for all the witty exchanges between them, the shared stories, and the obscure interchanges with the odd local resident or law enforcement agent who crosses their path, this is a play about life, about what matters, and about what is lost amongst the rush and the administration.

The two men swap stories, tell tall tales, but increasingly their tales become more whimsical and spiritual as this play becomes a meditation on our lives, their purpose, and what is important.

What Erik wants most of all is simply that big fish. That one every fisherman wants to catch. That huge catch that has all his friends admiring wistfully, and one that he can nail to a board and hang upon his wall to admire for all his life. ‘Nice fish’, people will say as they pat Erik on the back.

We all have these targets; ones that forever drive us on. Achievements we want to reach. But what are they, truthfully, in the big scheme of things?

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Nice Fish is delicately directed by Claire van Kampen and the production includes some intriguing use of puppetry and small-scale models. But, be warned, this isn’t a tightly-woven play with a strong narrative drive. It may only be 90 minutes long but a few around me drifted off into an afternoon nap as, perhaps, there wasn’t enough to grab their attention and keep them awake.

And, it must be said, in those moments when the show does seem to wander off somewhere, it’s only really the charisma and the excellence of the ever-engaging Mark Rylance that (just about) keeps you engaged. His stage craft seems effortless – a prodigious talent and an immensely skilled actor.

An engaging, heart-warming show on life and the passage of time.

Harold Pinter Theatre, London, to February 11, 2017

All production images by Teddy Wolff.

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