Review By Michelle Sutton
Gods and Little Fishes has premiered at the New Theatre in Sydney, after winning the Silver Gull Play Award back in 2020. Written by Richard Sydenham and Jamie Oxenbould, the play is based on the tragic true Australian story of the kidnapping of the son of 1960 lottery winner Bazil Thorne. The play is not a narrative retelling of the event but rather an imaginative and abstract illustration of grief and loss from the father’s perspective. In 1960 Bazil Thorne won a prize from the Sydney Opera House Lottery to the sum of 100,000 pounds. Soon after, Bazil’s son Graeme was kidnapped and held ransom for the prize money. This event was a shock to the Australian public who at the time believed crimes of this greedy and cruel nature only occurred in places like the United States and not in Australia which was widely regarded to be a safe place for all including children. The kidnapping of Graeme is often referred to as one of the events in the process of Australia’s loss of innocence. On top of co-writing the play, Sydenham also directs the show and Oxenbould stars as the lead, Frank Edwards. He provides a good centre for the play, and plays the confused and distressed character well. He interacts with three other characters who are stranded on a raft at sea; Pepe (Eloise Snape) the clown, Guy (Arky Michael) the strong man and Andy (Andy McDonell), an actor and writer who wears a bear suit. Pepe, Guy and Andy rescue Frank from a storm and help him remember who he is in between rehearsing their theatre shows. The comedic timing and chemistry between the three actors is a highlight. Similarly, to traditional casting for productions of Peter Pan, Frank’s 8-year-old son, Jeremy, is played by adult actor Sarah-Jane Kelly. The set design by Hannah Tayler is appropriately whimsical and captivating. With the largest part of the New Theatre stage resembling a large wooden raft with bits and pieces strewn all over it and just enough space for the dining table and armchair of the Edwards’ 1960s home to sit on the edges. This allows the story to flow in and out of worlds simultaneously. Grant Fraser does a lovely job of the lighting design, with perfect, pink and purple shades to complement the painted cloudy blue-sky backdrop and resemble the passing of sunsets and sunrises. Katie Fitchett is responsible for costume design as well as playing Frank’s wife in the show. She has done a stellar job with suburban period piece attire for Frank, his wife and son and fairy-tale-like costumes for performers Pepe, Guy and Andy. Richard Sydenham’s direction assists in establishing a smooth flow from the dreamlike raft scenes to the mother and son scenes in the house. The concept of the show is very interesting, however in my opinion the execution does not quite live up to it. There does not seem to be a compelling reason for retelling this story, as there are no great insights given into the grieving process after Frank loses his son, or into the motivations or psyche of the kidnapper who does not speak at all in the play. There is a vague comparison of the loss of Australia’s innocence with the untimely end of Jeremy’s innocence and imagination however I don’t think any particular points are made clear. The dialogue is written and delivered skilfully but there is no strong underlying message or lingering emotion. Gods and Little Fishes is very clever and thoughtful however I don’t think I would have been able to follow it very well had I not read the blurb and researched the story the show is based on beforehand. With a runtime of 70 minutes and no interval, the show is just long enough to suspend disbelief and go with the flow of the story. Gods and Little Fishes is a very creative and original show, although I do not think it is particularly moving or impactful, it has some charming jokes and really solid performances by all cast members.
Image Credit: New Theatre