Wot? No Fish!! is an intensely personal and moving performance about love, family, Jewish culture and art.
Walking into the AC Arts Main Theatre, the audience is greeted only by Danny Braverman. He welcomes guests and waxes lyrical about all manner of things with a battered shoebox under his arm. Tupperware containers are passed between audience members. In them are fish balls on toothpicks and little pots of chrain, a dip of horseradish and beetroot. It all feels rather odd and aimless to begin with. When does the show start?
Things come into focus as Braverman’s monologue continues. He explains his family context, and just what those fish balls are about. It’s a traditional Jewish snack, and the chrain, says Braverman, is like the Jewish experience – bittersweet.
Braverman makes his way to a table with only an overhead projector on it. He proceeds to pluck family artefacts from the shoebox, ushering the audience into a deep exploration of the lives of his great aunt and uncle, Celie and Ab Solomons. Aside from a letter or two, we’re mostly looking at Ab’s illustrations of his life with Celie, made weekly on paper wage bags.
Their lives aren’t really that remarkable. They’re normal Jewish folks making their way in London through the better part of the 20th century. What is remarkable is Braverman’s eloquent exploration of their stories and the sometimes peculiar challenges they faced.
He freely admits that he doesn’t know exactly what happened in their lives, but from his research (and consulting “oracle Mum”), he paints a stunningly vivid picture of love, loss and determination. His heartfelt reverence for Ab’s art and life is seen in Braverman handling the images with white cotton gloves.
Taken individually, those doodles are small, sometimes amusing, sometimes serious snapshots of the time they were created in. But in sequence alongside Braverman’s humorous, cutting commentary they form a moving image of Ab and Celie’s evolving relationship, from young and vital lovers, to new parents, to ambitious middle agers, to a cosy older couple. They are not just doodles by the end, but fully formed miniature artworks.
Wot? No Fish!! is also a fascinating introduction to Jewish culture for those of us unawares in the audience and a celebration of its idiosyncrasies for those in the know. You’ll certainly come away understanding the difference between a ‘schlep ’, a ‘schmo’ and a ‘schmuck’.
More than anything though, you’ll leave this stirring show knowing that fish, beetroot and horseradish aren’t all you need to make fish balls and chrain. The secret ingredient? It’s love.
Wot? No Fish!! was performed at the AC Arts Main Theatre on Saturday, March 4 2017 as part of Adelaide Festival and continues until Tuesday, March 7.
Photography: Tony Lewis