Wot? No Fish!!

Richard Watts

A deeply moving story about enduring love, told through pay packets, doodles, family memories and fishballs.
Wot? No Fish!!

Photo credit: Tony Lewis

In 1926, Jewish shoemaker Ab Solomons married his sweetheart Celie in London's East End. Each week, in an intimate ritual that came to define their relationship, Ab would draw a small cartoon for his wife on his pay-packet; at first just a quick doodle to illustrate her housekeeping money: a broom, a saucepan and a frypan. Later he would illustrate a key event of the week just passed, from a memorable argument to a happy memory of bedroom gymnastics. Over time, his increasingly elaborate drawings became an enduring history of their lives together, the good and the bad; from rainy holidays on the English coast to the outbreak of the Second World War.

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Danny Braverman's Wot? No Fish!! tells the story of his great-uncle Ab and his great-aunt Celie, with Braverman using an overhead projector to display Ab's increasingly detailed sketches and his imagination to fill in the gaps of their narrative. The resulting production blends memory and family history, half-remembered stories and precious memories, comedy and tears.

Braverman begins the show by offering his audience tupperware containers holding serves of gefilte fish, a traditional Jewish dish served up with chrain, a sauce made with horseradish, beetroot 'and love'. Chrain's flavour is 'bitter and sweet together', providing Braverman with a perfect metaphor his great-aunt and great-uncle's shared lives. His story about their story is beautifully paced, weaving a rich tapestry from laughter and tragedy, intimate moments and world events.

As a performer, Braverman is relaxed and confident, maintaining a conversational air throughout but never losing control when his audience interject or respond to his questions. His curation of Ab's drawings – of which there are thousands, covering the years from 1926 to 1982 – bring focus and narrative to the couple's sometimes turbulent lives.

As the decades unfold, each illustrated in Ab's naïve but charming style, we learn about Celie and Ab's children, their fractious family members, and the impact of a changing world on their relationship, ​including middle class migration from the inner city to the suburbs. The rituals and traditions of Jewish culture, as depicted in Ab's keenly observed miniatures, are also explored; additionally, Braverman teases out Ab's reasons for making such a monumental body of work despite having no formal artistic training.

'Ab was an artist to his bones and if it happened, he had to draw it,' says Braverman of his great-uncle's untrained but observant eye. We're lucky that Ab was so committed, because his work – coupled with a keenly crafted and charmingly delivered performance – results in a small gem of a show; intimate, enchanting, disarming and delightful and a highlight of this year's Adelaide Festival. 

4 stars out of 5

Wot? No Fish!!
bread&circuses
A collaboration between Danny Braverman and Nick Philippou
Writer/Performer: Danny Braverman
Original Direction: Nick Philippou
Technical Manager: Simon Jackson Lyall
International Producer: Charlene Lim
AC Arts Main Theatre, Adelaide
3-7 March 2017

Adelaide Festival
adelaidefestival..com.au
3-19 March 2017

Richard Watts travelled to Adelaide as a guest of Adelaide Festival.

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's Performing Arts Editor and Team Leader, Editorial; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on community radio station Three Triple R.

The founder of the Emerging Writers' Festival, Richard currently serves on the Committee of Management for La Mama Theatre, on the board of literary journal Going Down Swinging, and on the Green Room Awards Independent Theatre panel. He is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and in 2017 was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Festival Living Legend.

Follow Richard on Twitter: @richardthewatts

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