Review: Gods And Little Fishes (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), May 31 – Jun 25, 2022
Playwrights: Richard Sydenham, Jamie Oxenbould
Director: Richard Sydenham
Cast: Katie Fitchett, Sarah-Jane Kelly, Andy McDonell, Arky Michael, Jamie Oxenbould, Eloise Snape, Richard Sydenham
Images by Bob Seary

Theatre review
Frank has been rescued, and is now spending his days on a raft in the middle of the ocean, with three strange men. In Gods and Little Fishes by Richard Sydenham and Jamie Oxenbould, we watch Frank in a state of discombobulation, struggling to deal with a mysterious traumatic event. The raft is presented as an allegory for the stage, with the three rescuers offering distinct representations of strength, of humour and of camouflage; qualities that help Frank navigate his moment of incapacity.

The writing is philosophical, with a sense of mischievousness that proves delightful. Sydenham’s direction of the piece is finely balanced, positioned in a whimsical place between the comedic and the melancholic. The moral of the story could be communicated more sonorously, but there is no denying the unwavering commitment to its central beliefs about the cathartic powers of art.

The show’s playful spirit is conveyed visually through the work of set designer Hannah Tayler and costume designer Katie Fitchett, who bring a jovial vibrancy to the imagery we encounter. Grant Fraser’s lights add a dimension of mood variation, while sound by Lloyd Allison-Young, although sparse, helps to modulate our sensibilities, so that we tune in to the specificities of what the play wishes to impart.

Oxenbould’s restrained performance as Frank offers a minimalist rendering of character, that pulls us in to gain an effective understanding of his anguish, without having the theatrical experience be one about indulgent melodrama. Andy McDonell, Arky Michael and Eloise Snape are the three rescuers, each actor wonderfully affable, and together as a team, they are impressively well-rehearsed, and proficient at keeping us curious and attentive. Sarah-Jane Kelly plays Frank’s son Jeffrey, able to introduce an air of innocence and sentimentality to proceedings, without ever turning nauseating.

We have become experts at quantifying and monetising so many things, including services of a medical nature. Enterprising people have concocted innumerable contrivances that form what is known as the health and wellness industry, yet the creation of art, although an ancient pursuit, is yet to find its place in a world that is now almost entirely commercialised.

We refuse to acknowledge that art is critical to our survival as individuals and as a species, therefore keeping it a low priority in how we allocate resources as communities. People live their lives oblivious to how they benefit from the work of artists, even begrudging them for daring to do what they love. The truth is that humans cannot exist without storytelling, and we cannot experience transcendence without inventiveness. It is at our own peril, should we continue to make heroes out of idiots, and billionaires out of despots.