[2013022] Like a Fishbone

[2013022] Like a Fishbone

Early Worx in theatre and art @ Higher Ground East – Main Theatre

7:30pm, Sun 17 Feb 2013

I was really disappointed when I heard of Higher Ground’s Light Square closure last year; notwithstanding the generally amiable vibe of the place, it was also home to Guy Masterson’s Centre for International Theatre project – and the generally high-quality drama that it tended to present. So I was a bit surprised to see the Higher Ground name reappear in the Fringe Guide… but all the more delighted to wander in for the first time. Rough hewn walls, artwork hanging, makeshift bar… it felt right.

I spot Jane for the first time this season and have a nice little chat; upstairs to the Main Theatre, we perch on bar stools at the back of a decent-sized crowd. Amy Victoria Brooks is waiting onstage when we arrive, hidden beneath a dark shroud at the edge of the space; centre-stage is a prominent model of a small village on a table. The house lights (almost imperceptibly, given the ambience) drop, and Shannon Mackowski primly bustles in; startled by the presence of the figure in the shroud, the play is off to a nervously tense start.

Mackowski plays The Architect, charged with creating a memorial in remembrance of a school shooting in a small village (which, given the Sandy Hook tragedy occurred after Fringe submissions closed, demonstrates the unfortunately evergreen relevance of Anthony Weigh’s play). Brooks plays The Mother of one of the the slain children – and she, in her physically frail and partially blind state, has come to The Architect to plead for the memorial to be scrapped. The two women appear to be polar opposites – one earthy and maternal, the other polished and cold; emotive versus rational. The reasoned pleas and explanations give way to more passionate accusations and spirited defences as the time for formal presentation of the model of the memorial draws close; The Architect’s Intern (Rebecca Calandro) provides some (almost unwanted) light relief as feelings escalate, before a surprisingly violent turn of events – and a cold, fractured denouement.

Both Mackowski and Brooks really deliver the goods with their roles; Shannon’s character is utterly focussed and dedicated to her work, her irritation with the presence of The Mother evident with every punctuative “yes?” – less a question, more a dismissal. The Mother is a portrait of the struggling faithful; frail and emotionally battered, Brooks lets the religious devotion of her character appear desperate and broken… and that’s very much in keeping with the undertones of the piece, which seem to contemplate the role of religion in the spiritual destruction of the town. The direction of the play is… well, curious: with the model of the memorial dominating the centre of the stage, there’s three very well defined spaces which seem to reflect the leaning of the play’s wavering sentiment at any given point in time: left for the rational, right for the emotive, front-and-centre for the combative.

I really enjoyed Like a Fishbone, but it’s not beyond criticism. As Jane points out, The Architect and The Mother are both pretty highly strung from the moment we first meet them… and when the physical struggle between them occurs, it seems to spring from nowhere. The initial tension between the two women doesn’t really get the opportunity to appear to escalate, so the attack seems sudden and unnecessary – yes, there’s the urgency of The Architect to get to her presentation, but it still feels unbelievable.

Worse, though, was the noise bleed in the venue. With word-of-mouth spreading about Little Miss Mexico, the pop-up bar’s patrons raucous noise tumbled through the walls to provide an unwanted distraction. Despite the ratcheted tension of Like a Fishbone, it’s a play that would benefit from the silences between the lines – and they simply weren’t available during this performance.

But hey – that’s the Fringe for you. And, despite the obstacles, this proved to be quality Fringe theatre – a heady production given weight by two substantial performances.

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