An insight to the heartwarming true story Wot? No Fish!! with co-creator Danny Braverman.
How did you discover your Great Uncle’s drawings and how did this inspire you to create the work?
My Mum’s cousin, Ab’s son Geoff, died in 2019 and Mum cleared out his flat. She found Uncle Ab’s art gathering dust under Geoff’s bed. I poured over the pictures and started to see many extraordinary elements: how fabulous an artist he was; the recurring themes of marriage, aspiration, the bitter with the sweet; the sheer dedication he had to religiously document their lives every week for over 50 years; and how much of Ab and Celie’s story intersected with my own life. Then, I set myself the challenge of finding a way to tell Ab’s story in performance.
There’s a focus on creating a true community and family environment for the audience in your work. How does this affect the audiences’ experience and why is it important?
For me it’s vital to create a sense of temporary community for an audience. It’s actually an ancient element of performance, creating what the theatre anthropologist Victor Turner calls communitas. I think it provides a space where we can be lifted from the everyday and imagine future possibilities. I’m particularly interested in how particular stories actually resonate with universals. It is through the universals that affect us all that dialogue starts. In my view, this is a vital function of performance in an increasingly fractured world.
The intricacies and particularities of everyday life are a main theme in this piece - what fascinates you about the innate drama of everyday life?
So many dramas are about people who are not like us. This focus on the supposed “great” and “heroic” (or on the “bad” and “villainous”), puts many of us on the margins. Perhaps there is no term as surreptitiously insidious as “ordinary people”. Actually, unheralded people are extraordinary – I want to tell their stories to do my small bit to address the imbalance.
You explore intimate moments throughout the piece and the audience really travels on a personal journey with you. Can you describe why you wanted to share your family’s story?
For lots of reasons. Not least because this is a Jewish cultural story, but it’s not fundamentally about the many things Jewish stories are about (the Holocaust, Israel etc). And when you excavate my family story, very specifically about Jewish East London, then we find echoes with many people. This may be a story set in the 20th Century, but I think it’s entirely relevant to where the personal and political overlap today. Also, as an artist, I’ve spent a lot of time facilitating other people’s stories. I think it took me to be 50 and have had some deeply reflective experiences (particularly nearly dying and becoming disabled) to feel I had a compelling story worth sharing widely.
Do you believe the continuity of community lies within the simple gestures, or in this current age does something more grand need to be done?
They’re not opposites. We need big strategic thinking if our species is to survive (particularly around ecology). We also need grand cultural shifts to address increasing tribalism. However, and this may seem paradoxical, I think profound changes can only come about with a bottom-up approach; the infectiousness of simple gestures. Mostly, I’d like to see a radical movement that sees an epidemic of small acts of kindness. Uncle Ab’s drawings, in part, were a fascinating combination of self-expression and these small acts of kindness. So perhaps, posthumously, he can lead us gently towards a better way of being.
See Wot? No Fish!! at Perth Festival 2019
Tickets available here.