Conversations with a Fish – choose your aquatic adventure

28 January 2022

Helah Milroy’s audience-driven, fish-pun laden, dark comedy wins over Barbara Hostalek, even if it could use a little more rehearsal time.

Conversations with a Fish, Helah Kristy Milroy ·
The Blue Room Theatre as part of Summer Nights, 27 January 2022 · 

Fisherrendum! A democratic right?

Palyku (East Pilbara) biological artist, existential philosopher and practitioner of non-violence Helah Milroy has made a splash with her debut as a playwright and director. Performed by a cast of six, Milroy’s Conversations with a Fish is a smart series of dark comedies that allow audience members to vote on the outcome of certain choices affecting the life of a fish.

Via the relative safety of the fish metaphor, Milroy explores human existence, reflecting on themes of power and control, freedom, and the question of whether this is reality or an extension of the Matrix. If this sounds like a ruptured “swim-bladder” with a dorsal fin off-kilter then think again. There is balance when the scales are tipped towards sovereignty.

Cleverly written, relatable fish puns abound, as do apt references to memorable Matrix moments and – for enthusiasts of existential dilemmas – ponderous musings on loss, love and the patriarchal order and how to disrupt it.

I enjoyed travelling to various landscapes – a fish tank, the beach – via audiovisual imagery. Each destination is well matched by David Whyatt and D’Abrande Ngoka’s evocative polyrhythmic percussion soundscape, infused with live cello by Camille Lalanne, who hits the mark with every change and shift in story.

I was reeled further into the narrative by colourful and creative fish costumes, simple but effective designs that complement the set.

A snapshot from Conversations with a Fish. Pictured a man stands, poised, his arms slightly behind his torso, his eyes focused to something beyond the frame. He wears a black and white striped onesie and horns.
Colourful and creative costumes reeled Barbara Hostalek into the story. Photo: Helah Milroy

Joey Vale delivers a strong performance, narrating her freedom while keeping a straight face in the face of the dancing Admiral (David Whyatt), whose slow and steady, flickering fin gestures and incredible coordination of breath and line delivery, are highlights. The fish dating dance (Vale and Paul Rowe) is another, as is Whyatt’s delivery of the line “how can I think for myself if we are all one?”

In this complex work which relies on perfection of timing, on and off set, there were a few glitches in delivery of lines, but it feels like this will improve as the season progresses.

I heard a lot of laughter amongst the opening night audience and it was contagious. But Milroy’s “choose your own adventure” melodrama/borderline-absurdist concept goes beyond comedy, cleverly forcing the audience to take responsibility and experience the consequences of decisions.

This production is lingering in my psyche. Though it could do with a bit more rehearsal time to sharpen the cohesion of the group, there is much to think about in Conversations with a Fish and I look forward to experiencing more of Milroy’s creativity.

So get a group together and head along to this show. You’ll have a laugh and plenty to discuss afterwards.

Conversations with a Fish continues at The Blue Room Theatre until 3 February 2022.

Top photo: Helah Milroy

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Author —
Barbara Hostalek

Barbara Hostalek is an independent First Nations playwright proud to be living with Noongar Boodjar. She began writing plays at Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company’s Writers group in 2015. Her work has been produced by Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company (Cracked), Black Swan Theatre Company (Unsung Heroes monologue series: Own Way) and Mudskipper Productions (Banned). Park fun play? Hands down, the sandpit.

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