A Fish Is A Terrible Friend

Phoebe Anne Taylor heard the words she wrote in her play A Fish Is a Terrible Friend spoken out loud for the first time in three years and was terrified. Written over a period of one and a half weeks whilst in residency at Arteles Creative Center in Finland eight years ago, Taylor’s words give life to characters negotiating the meaning of life, love and loss and reveal a lot about her thoughts at the time. I was privileged to attend a reading of the play hosted by Incognita Enterprises at the inspiring venue and artists’ hub, Montsalvat, Eltham.

A play reading is very different from a fully produced play. There are no costumes or sets, lighting or sound effects to convey when or where a scene takes place. We have to listen carefully to the “big print,” that is, the playwright’s descriptions of the scenes and actions of the characters, which are read out loud by a Narrator, in this case, Taylor herself, who is also an actor.

It is understood that the actors will be reading from their script with little or no rehearsal. In this case, there was one rehearsal a week before. The actors remain seated for the duration, and we watch them carefully for facial expressions and body language that add to their vocal communication. There is nothing else to watch. We have to use our imagination to provide an image of the character’s appearance and movements (for example, when the narrator says, “They kiss”).

This makes the whole experience more like listening to a radio play or podcast, and I closed my eyes to picture the scenario or wondered how it could be made to work on stage. We are drawn into being co-creators of the play’s imagery in our minds. In fact, the whole creative process is on show here, especially highlighted by the playwright’s introduction and the Q&A discussion at the end. I found it an exhilarating and inspirational format.

Luckily for us, actors Sarah Hallam, Sally McLean, Paul Rochford and Phoebe Anne Taylor are all seasoned professionals who are so highly trained that each of them are also actor trainers. It was not hard to follow what was happening, and the performances were engaging. Interestingly, Taylor has been intentionally writing gender-neutral characters into her plays for some time now. This allows them to be played by any gender, whether cis or trans. The characters pronouns are written parenthetically as “(they/them)” which then can be replaced in the rehearsal stage with the preferred pronoun of the actor and/or at the discretion of the director.

The protagonists of this play are Alpha (Rochford) and Omega (Hallam), and they need to work out their tortured relationship before the world ends. “I want to die with you, but I couldn’t leave you”, admits Alpha while they watch the doom approaching. McLean plays four other characters who serve to interrupt, comment on and move the action along. Her reading of the sleazy bartender called the Flamingo was hilarious and pretty much stole the show.

I haven’t given away much about the play itself because the highlights of this play reading were the insights into Taylor’s creative process and how it sparked my own imagination. Plus, I think you should see it yourself when it gets fully produced. In the meantime, keep an eye on Incognita Enterprises for its quality events, classes, and productions.

This review also appears on It’s On The House, and check out more reviews at Dark Stories Theatre to see what else is on in your town.

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