A delicious blend of style and substance

13 September 2018

Review: Frieda, Sam and Friends, The Inconsequential Lives of Little Fish ·
The Blue Room Theatre 11 September ·
Review by Xan Ashbury ·

A theatre maker’s work will inevitably reflect their life’s journey and perspective on the world. The richer their experiences, the more likely their work will offer substantial food for thought.

This is especially the case with The Inconsequential Lives of Little Fish, written by Frieda Lee. Before graduating with a Bachelor of Performing Arts from WAAPA in 2016, Lee had picked up an arts/law degree, a Masters of Human Rights and experience working for NGOs in the Asia Pacific region.

Her latest play, a collaboration with Sam Hayes, reveals the horrific stories of people working in and around the international fishing industry. Add poetic writing, clever design and compelling performances and you have a delicious blend of style and substance.

What springs to mind when you think about seafood? Perhaps family feasts during summer holidays? Just like the Disney version of fairy tales, that is the sanitised version.

For about $450, some Thai boat owners actually buy fisherman. The men and boys are often Rohingya refugees from countries such as Cambodia, Bangladesh, Laos and Myanmar. Brokers organise their passage and help them find work in return for fees to be repaid from future wages. Most end up trapped at sea.

Slave ships, plying international waters off Thailand, scoop up huge quantities of “trash fish”, infant or inedible fish ground into fishmeal for farmed prawns – prawns which can end up in Australian supermarket freezers.

Concerns about the practice – rife with stories of murder, cruelty, torture and abuse –culminated in an Australian Government inquiry last year. The Inconsequential Lives of Little Fish was devised as a response to the inquiry, which has recommended that certain entities report on modern slavery risks in their supply chains.

While these facts have informed and inspired the play, its narrative centres on one family and it is told using the conventions of a fairy tale. At first, its magic realism is heart-warming: a poor fisherman catches a talking fish who begs to be set free… yes, just like The Fisherman and His Wife by the Grimm Brothers.

In that original fairy tale, the wife insists the fisherman go back and ask the magical fish to fulfil ever grander wishes, culminating in the desire for God-like powers. She ends up back in the seaside hovel, of course, just to spell out that greed and lust for wealth and power are bad.

While The Inconsequential Lives of Little Fish takes the fairytale’s opening premise, the magical fish promises and delivers a wife (who can shape-shift between fish and human). It is a love story – until there’s a storm and a sick baby.

Both Little Fish (Frieda Lee) and her fisherman (Sam Hayes) end up in desperate circumstances, written to reflect the experiences of real life modern slavery. We come to see that the fishermen are not unlike the fish, who are captured against their will; little fish, who are used to fatten those higher up the food chain.

In essence, this play shows us the tragedy of what happens when those in the commercial fishing industry value power and wealth over human dignity and life.

A man kissing a fish puppet
The versatile Sam Hayes (foreground) switches between seven characters. Photo: Susie Blatchford.

The evocative and dynamic set (designed by Maeli Cherel and built by Etain Boscato) features a wooden structure that doubles as a fence and a boat. Paperbark, used for fish, harness Hayes’ experience as a puppeteer. My favourite part of the set was a rifle suspended on a rope. When pushed, it swung back and forth across the stage, creating an illusion of the boat lurching violently in rough seas.

Hayes’ versatility was equally as impressive. He switches between seven characters – ranging from the kind fisherman to a cruel ageing woman, powerful senator and sadistic captain.

The play’s final moments are stunning. I won’t give away their trick… but it was a master stroke. At the same time as lifting the mood, it flipped fantasy into reality, reminding us that real, vulnerable people are at the heart of this story.

The Inconsequential Lives of Little Fish plays the Blue Room until September 22.

Pictured top: Frieda Lee in ‘The Inconsequential Lives of Little Fish’. Photo: Susie Blatchford.

Like what you're reading? Support Seesaw.

Author —
Xan Ashbury

Xan Ashbury is a teacher who spent a decade writing for newspapers and magazines in Australia and the UK. She won the Shorelines Writing for Performance Prize in 2014-17. Her favourite piece of playground equipment is the flying fox.

Past Articles

  • A tsunami of subversion

    You might want to brace yourself for Patrick Marlborough’s radical gloves-off stand-up in On Fringe, but it’s well worth the effort, advises Xan Ashbury.

  • Extraordinary tales about ordinary people

    Created by local performance company Whiskey & Boots, The Bystander Project is a celebration of stories, art and shared humanity, says Xan Ashbury.

Read Next

  • Kiki Saito and Matthew Lehmann in Nils Christe's Before Nightfall. Photo by Bradbury Photography copy Two West Australian ballet dancers on stage - a woman is perched on one pointe, her other leg extended upwards in a split. She arches back, supported by a male dancer. Hitting high notes at 70

    Hitting high notes at 70

    25 June 2022

    Traversing a range of human emotion, West Australian Ballet’s latest triple bill is an evening of beautifully performed contemporary dance, reports Kim Balfour.

    Reading time • 6 minutesDance
  • Cabaret festival. A singer wearing a fur hat is on stage with a pianist, guitarist and drummer. We can see the dress circle seats of the theatre in the background lit in a greenish light. Tributes to musical idols light up stage

    Tributes to musical idols light up stage

    23 June 2022

    A cabaret veteran and opera performer bring very different interpretations of the greats of classical, jazz and pop in the second week of the Perth International Cabaret Festival, writes David Zampatti

    Reading time • 6 minutesCabaret
  • A semi circle of 8 singers, with one standing in the centre, facing an audience. They are in a large hall and there are cnadles, chairs and pot plants decorating the floor around them. Vanguards bring poetry to vocal music

    Vanguards bring poetry to vocal music

    20 June 2022

    Armchair poets become legends in their own lunchtimes in Vanguard Consort’s imaginative Saturday Night Poetry, writes Claire Coleman.

    Reading time • 5 minutesMusic

Leave a comment

Cleaver Street Studio

Cleaver Street Studio

Cleaver Street Studio