Review by Carly Fisher
The Fishbowl is unlike most other shows you will see at Adelaide Fringe. Back to the bare bones of what theatre is about, The Fishbowl doesn’t try to impress with big sets or costumes, or wow with circus acts and the like that have become increasingly popular at fringe festivals. Instead, it is honest, raw and deeply important content presented by highly talented creatives in an understated, immersive-like environment.
Focusing in on the trials and tribulations of Dementia - from the perspective of those experiencing their own decline at its mercy, from family members and friends, and importantly, from the care staff - this show is a reminder of how easy it is to overlook humanity in the face of hardship. Would it be easier to expedite the daily care routine of patients on this dementia ward by simply forcing them to do things, yes, probably it would. Is it the best way to do it? No, certainly not. This play beautifully showcases the lengths one must often go to to care for someone experiencing dementia. Though a specific example, really what we are being told about and shown is a generic lesson on how to treat people with dignity above all else. It is a beautiful and poignant reminder that will never not be timely.
Written by writer/performer Matthew Barker, the story tells of his personal experiences working as a carer in a local Adelaide nursing home. The stories he shares, some Verbatim and some reimagined for the show, are directly influenced by those that he has met and the experiences that he has had for the past 6 years working as a carer. To be honest, this is not something that I knew about the show until I started researching it for this review but as soon as I read it, I was instantly moved even further. Barker is an exceptional storyteller and it is clear, a wonderful person too - this is not easy work!
It is clear that Barker and Director, Steph Daughtry, have an excellent report as the trust given to each other creatively is noticeable and considerable. With Daughtry's guidance, the characterisation of each person mentioned is deep, authentic and extremely respectful. There is a lot of work that has been done here and it is highly impressive.
The story is at times instructional and I love the mixed mediums and stylistic choices employed by Barker to give this story the depth and richness it deserves. We sing, we hear voice recordings, we see a photo, we witness roll play, we sit through a physiotherapy training development course, etc, but more than anything, we listen and we listen intensely. This is a credit to the excellent flow that Barker has found in his writing.
It is also thanks to Barker and his onstage co-star, Evie Leonard who both excel in this performance. Showing off their abilities in accent work, physical theatre, characterisation and storytelling, this piece is beautifully crafted by the performers who breathe such heart and life into each character and story they share.
I am hesitant to say too much more about the storyline because I fear that too much said could ruin the surprising narrative of The Fishbowl. So instead, I will implore you to please see it when it is in your city - you will not be sorry!
Set in the studio theatre at Holden Street this year, the space was perhaps a little bit too large for what felt like such an intimate show but being a traditional blackbox, and thanks to the clever decision to bring the chairs on stage to create a theatre in the round effect, the show still seemed very at home in the beautiful Studio. Holden Street has a reputation for excellent programming and this is a perfect example as to why.
This show will comfortably find its feet on stages around the world and I certainly hope that this show is considering representing Australia on the Edinburgh stage. This is precisely the type of theatre we should be proud to be showcasing on a global stage as it proves just how exceptional Australian Artists and their ideas are.
I look forward to seeing what happens next for The Fishbowl team.