WOT? NO FISH!! - ADELAIDE
WOT! NO FISH, Adelaide Festival, AC Arts Main Theatre, 3-7 March 2017.
Visiting Londoner Danny Braverman opens his one-man-and-a-shoebox show by flipping the lids off a few large Tupperware containers and encouraging the audience to share the contents. A powerfully delicious aroma wafts around along with morsels of gefilte fish. It’s dipped into little bowls of chrain, the horseradish and beetroot sauce whose third ingredient, he reminds us, is love.
Braverman is an affable, easy presence; a classic East End Jew whose love of family and storytelling makes this show inevitable. In the battered shoebox he has a number of old photographs which he uses to set the scene: Dalston in the 1920s where a boy, Ab Solomons, lives next door to a girl, Celie. One family was more affluent than the other but the two fell in love and married. They were Braverman’s great aunt and uncle.
Ab Solomons was a shoemaker and every Thursday he brought home to Celie his wage packet – a small manilla envelope expressly made and used to contain the notes and coins of his weekly pay. Amazing thought. For reasons unknown Ab began to draw a cartoonish illustration on these envelopes, perhaps at first to amuse his young wife and, as the weeks, months and years went by, to tell stories of their lives.
Celie kept the envelopes (in a shoebox and then yet more shoeboxes) and over time the drawings became more elaborate and more skilled. From 1926 to 1982 the little envelopes – thousands of them, Braverman tells us – illustrated not only Celie and Ab’s life but also the changes as they had children, experienced ups and downs and as the Jewish community around them grew and changed.
Using a simple white surfaced draughtsman’s table and an overhead projector and screen, Braverman talks and surmises, reminisces and narrates the fragments and glimpses offered by the envelopes. He treats the envelopes with the reverence and care of priceless artefacts – which they are, really – and his sense of awe and deep affection is infectious.
The final drawing was made shortly after Celie’s death and four years after that, Ab died too. The shoeboxes were retrieved and step by step, from cousin to cousin, made their way to Danny Braverman. With the aid of his own mother’s memories and considerable curiosity and imagination, he pieced together not only a personal family story, but a wider one of the Jews of London’s East End – and their upwardly mobile diaspora to the well-to-do northern suburbs of the city.
“Ab was an artist to his bones and if it happened, he had to draw it,” Braverman says of his great-uncle. In this instance, the artist is the theatremaker – if it was drawn he has had to weave its story around it. Wot! No Fish is charming, heartwarming, illuminating and beguiling.