Fishskin Trousers tells the stories of three lost souls, all linked by their relationship with the mysterious island of Orford Ness, just off the Suffolk coast. Mab (Jessica Carroll) offers a 12th century perspective on the arrival to the island of the ‘Wild man of Orford’. She tells us of his webbed feet, inability to speak and deftness in the water. We are painted a picture of a merman type creature, misunderstood by all but Mab, and presumably doomed to some kind of miserable and watery end.
Fast forward 800 years, and scientist Ben (Brett Brown) – Australian by way of Stamford University, California – is taking readings of the strange sonic activity around the island as part of effort to ‘beat the reds’ in the Cold War. Another lurch in time brings us to Mog (Eva Traynor), who finds herself washed up on the island on the eve of her thirtieth birthday; lonely, lost and with a difficult decision to make.
Man, Ben and Mog are linked by the fables of the island, reaching through time. Much of the writing is as evocative and lyrical as you’d expect for a play about english folklore, depression and the sea – but some of the efforts to definitively join the dots between our three protagonists are about as elegant as Mab’s washerwoman sack dress. The Fishskin Trousers imagery just about works in Ben’s narrative, but is a stretch when it surface’s again in Mog’s. The attempt at interweaving Ben’s guilt-soaked backstory is plain odd.
Despite that, there’s some real beauty in Elizabeth Kuti‘s writing, and the performances over the 90 minutes are consummate (not least given the frequent lack of subtlety afforded by the script). Carroll is a mellifluous Mab, and you sense that Mog’s introspection would’ve been grating in hands less expert than Traynor’s. As my companion for the evening said afterwards, ‘it rather gets under your skin, doesn’t it?’ He wasn’t even attempting a fishy pun.
Reviewed by April Delaney
Photo: David Gill