Whilst West End musicals and high profile productions are relying on increasingly more developed technology to bring shocks and wonders to an audience with an ever shortening attention span, it is a relief and a pleasure to view some simple storytelling. Elizabeth Kuti’s new play ‘Fishskin Trousers’ follows three interwoven tales taken from different eras in the history of Orford, Suffolk. It’s primary focus is the Wild Man of Orford, a strange water dwelling being who was captured by fishermen in the time of King Henry II, and the impact his discovery has upon the life of Mab, a lonely spinster who feels just as spurned from the community as the Wildman himself. The second story tells of Ben, a young Australian radar expert posted on Orford Ness at the height of the Cold War to develop project ‘Cobra Mist’, an advanced ‘over-the-horizon’ system designed to track aircraft in Eastern Europe. His story, especially of his past, of a horrific experience at his US university, the courting of a local barmaid and frustration at his superiors are lighter in tone than the other two and provide some comic relief before the last tale. This concerns Mog, a pregnant primary school teacher of the modern day who, having been told that the foetus shows abnormalities, is given the option to discontinue the pregnancy. Still in the throes of decision her torn mind directs her back home to Orford where she battles with depression and guilt. The three tales are beautifully woven into each other, connecting in an unforced and gentle manner with honest and brilliantly timed revelations about each character that come frequently enough to leave the audience transfixed but are neither overbearing nor crass.
The play is delivered delightfully and refreshingly. With only three actors and no mime, no props and barely any set, director Robert Price creates what no amount of gimmicks could ever create. Three ages, three stories intertwining using only the skill of his actors. Without any distractions, the audience is left to focus upon the characters and fully enter the world that emerges. Jessica Carroll introduces the play as Mab, gently masking natural intelligence under the mask of a simpleton. It is perhaps the most difficult role of the three as she sets the scene of the town for the other actors to build on but Carroll, with the proficiency of a bard, uses the lyrical text to draw the audience into the Medieval Orford. Brett Brown, with his piercing stare and likeable charm along with a strong Australian accent, perfectly works with his more comical role, easing tension that builds up during Carroll’s eerie tale. However he is disarmingly quick with his transitions to the more tragic pieces of his story that shock the audience with their swift and brutal conclusions. As Mog, Eva Traynor delivers her account with heart breaking realism. She is fantastic to listen to but equally interesting to watch, minute changes in her visage subtly matching the story with disturbing accuracy.
Watch out for Elizabeth Kuti; watch out for Robert Price; watch out for all of the actors. ‘Fishskin Trousers’ is a wonderful, original production which will hopefully continue showing after the Festival.