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Review: NICE FISH, Harold Pinter Theatre, 25 November 2016

The Harold Pinter Theatre had its final Sunny Afternoon in October, and is now home to Nice Fish for a limited run. Coming over from a sold-out season at New York's St. Ann's Warehouse, the play is a unique collaboration between Mark Rylance and Louis Jenkins, an American prose poet. The poems are based on Jenkins's own experiences living in Minnesota; each one forms the dialogue and monologues within the play, with the structure mostly conceived by Rylance. In that way, it works in the same vein as jukebox musicals and brings existing material together to create new art - it could perhaps be termed an 'anthology play'. For the most part it follows Erik and Ron philosophising about life whilst on an ice fishing trip, taking a bit of a surrealist twist in the latter stages.

Todd Rosenthal's design (a frozen lake complete with a miniature forest and shelter) sets the scene perfectly, while remaining practical enough to smoothly cope with the more unexpected elements of the show. The addition of puppets designed by Sarah Wright (Associate Artist at Kneehigh) allows for characters to be incorporated on a smaller scale within the miniature elements of the set, in a similar fashion to her work on 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips. The background is a blank canvas for some exquisite lighting from Japhy Weideman, in particular the sunset and the night sky.

The entire cast from the New York run has transferred over with the play, and the company provides strong support for its lead actors. There's no doubt that Rylance and Jim Lichtscheidl could carry the show on their own, however the inclusion of other characters enables the play to move off what could be a slightly predictable course. Flo (Kayli Carter) leading the group in a rendition of "Remember Me (When The Candle Lights Are Gleamin')" manages to be hilarious and beautiful in equal measure.

Lichtscheidl brings a down-to-earth cynicism to Erik, making him the more heartfelt and serious of the pair - but this doesn't mean he lacks humour. Erik is hugely funny, mostly in his frustration at his companion. Mark Rylance utilises his inimitable, natural style in his portrayal of Ron. His words come so freely it almost seems as if they've been improvised, adding to the unique feel of the show. Ron is quite goofy and seemingly rather careless, which accounts for a lot of laughs - as well as with his interminable lists that are peppered throughout.

Nice Fish proves itself to be that rarest of beasts: a show that sets out to be different and succeeds. It is by no means perfect - the use of blackouts for scene transitions does make it feel a little disjointed when they come thick and fast - but it certainly raises the stakes for originality as far as the West End is concerned. Highly entertaining with moments of great profundity, this show is definitely not a fish out of water.

Nice Fish is at the Harold Pinter Theatre until 11 February 2017

Picture credit: Teddy Woolf

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