James Ryan Gobuty
It is extremely common to have the opportunity to see a lot of movement based theatre in Toronto right now, so it’s definitely refreshing to see a show like Fishskin Trousers where the actors are all stationary on the stage throughout the production. Although it may seem dull to sit and watch three actors sit still for seventy-five minutes (an assumption I was definitely guilty of making while walking into the theatre), Fishskin Trousers, written by Elizabeth Kuti, is actually very compelling and shows that a strong script and strong actors goes a very long way.
Fishskin Trousers consists of three characters, from different time periods, telling tales of their experiences on the island called Orford Ness in England. The first character to speak is Mab (Arlin Dixon), a twelfth century servant who tells the tale of a mysterious creature –seemingly part man, and part fish – that was caught off the coast and held in the dungeon of Orford Castle. The next character is Ben (Craig Pike), who is an Australian radar scientist working in England to detect soviet submarines in the early seventies. Ben’s experience in England is quite dull until he starts to find an anomaly on his radar that his colleagues find dubious. Finally there is Mog (Julia Course) who is a teacher in the early part of the twenty-first century about to celebrate her thirtieth birthday when she finds out she’s pregnant, and that something might be wrong with the child. The characters’ stories start to weave into each other and we come to find that there are more connections between them than simple geography.
The acting in the show was particularly excellent, especially considering the limitations on movement that the cast had to follow. The success of the production really hinges on these actors being captivating storytellers, and all three of them step up to the job. I suspect a lot of the actors’ success lies on the shoulders of director Matthew Gorman whose task was to make sure the subtleties of the show were honed to perfection.
One of the most interesting aspects of the show is the set, designed by Jenna McCutchen, which consists of an island on stage upon which all the actors are seated. The island is roped to the stage as if it were a boat, creating a powerful symbol of the intertwined experiences of these disparate characters. Matthew Gorman called the island the “fourth character of the show,” and the beautifully simple set reflects that wonderfully.
Cart/Horse Theatre’s production of Fishskin Trousers is a great example of how simple aspects of theatre, executed extremely well, can be even more compelling than a show with a lot of bells and whistles.
Fishskin Trousers is playing at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, 16 Ryerson Avenue, Wednesday-Saturday at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm until December 7. Tickets are $20 or pay-what-you-can on Sundays. Tickets can be purchased online at artsboxoffice.ca or by phone at 416-504-7529.