A frozen lake. Minnesota. Two men, Erik (Jim Lichtscheidl) and Ron (Mark Rylance) embark on a fishing trip. That is more or less the setting of Nice Fish, which has just transferred to London’s West End following a run at St Ann’s Warehouse in New York. It is a strangely engaging play with a fairly large helping of humour – furthermore just a sprinkling of absurdity.
The play, co-written by Rylance, and directed by his wife, Claire van Kampen, brings together the prose poems of Louis Jenkins; some of which you might be familiar with, should you happen to have seen Rylance’s Tony Award acceptance speeches in either 2008 or 2011. Nice Fish has an undeniable lyrical quality with a whimsical tone; a perfect pairing with Rylance’s delivery which has a otherworldly innocence about it, drawing the audience in and wringing every ounce of potential from every last syllable.
There is always a slight danger with productions featuring Rylance: they can appear to be an unintentional one-man show. This is at no fault of either the material, or the other actors; but more testament to the prowess of the man as a master craftsman. In this production, Rylance showcases sparkling comic timing and a sensitivity to Jenkins’ text that ensures the audience are absolutely in his thrall from the get go. The relief with this play is that it does not fall victim to this aforementioned predicament. Whilst Rylance’s performance as Ron is nothing short of a masterclass, he is partnered with performers who are more than capable of holding their own weight – Lichtscheidl’s somewhat sombre Erik is no less watchable and wonderfully contrasting.
The beautiful puppetry that occurs throughout to add perspective and animation, invites us in and leaves us willing to embrace the whimsical, musing journey that Ron and Erik embark upon in their attempt to catch a fish of worth, which sees them encounter a number of locals before we all spiral towards absurdism to end the evening. The piece may not be ground breaking nor revolutionary, but it is hugely entertaining. With the opportunity to see Rylance work the fantastic text of Louis Jenkins in a hugely endearing fashion that can bring immediacy and intimacy to the largest of spaces, this is well worth a watch.