The list of theatres nationwide which have been forced to close due to coronavirus continues to grow daily. In London alone at least thirty venues have had to shut down; this includes some of the big money spinner musicals from Mackintosh/Lloyd Weber/Disney, et al which traditionally attract a lot of trade over the festive period. The simple fact is that the bigger the company the more likelihood that actors/technicians/FOH staff are likely to fall victim. If you had tickets for one of these and now have a big hole in your plans then help is at hand in the shape of The Astonishing Singing Fish! This show from Flying Dutchman Theatre and available via The Space concentrates on some of those mega productions but from a rather different and altogether quirkier angle.
Peter Tourette (no affiliation with the neurological hereditary disorder!) is a socially awkward and not particularly good junior scientist. A failed experiment of his has left its subject, Alex the goldfish, with the ability to speak, experience human emotions and even sing. The odd couple are now best friends and Peter resolves to try and assist Alex in achieving his ambition of singing in Les Misérables; he’d like to be Valjean but is happy to settle for Javert, especially as the latter’s inner life is interestingly complex. Alex can remember this aim because it has entered his long term memory together with all the music and lyrics which he can sing at the drop of a fin. Unfortunately, his short term memory remains completely unreliable, and Peter has to constantly repeat himself and remind his chum of things that have happened just moments before.
This ability to forget is, to some extent, a good thing as it means Alex can soon eradicate the many disappointments he faces. For some reason the casting director of Les Mis thinks he won’t be up to the role, and this is just the first in a long line of rejections as he fails to get call backs. Peter is somewhat relieved as he’s rather concerned about how Alex might deal with a dance call but as he cannot seem to progress that far the problem doesn’t arise. Gradually Peter forms a plan to help Alex achieve his goal which involves him getting into a tiger striped leotard to assist the wannabe performer to land the part of “Dead Fish” in Cats; he’s not up to that either, apparently.
As you’ll be gathering this is an extremely silly show with a crazy premise that never for a moment doubts itself and therefore comes over commendably. Tice Oakfield plays Alex; or at least his head does, complete with a pair of orange goggles and a bathing cap sporting a pair of natty fins which Oakfield uses as expressively as the hidden arms that are working them. Nathan Plant meanwhile also entertains as the nerdish Peter who slowly finds himself sucked into the world of show biz and eventually finds himself outstripping his piscine protégé. There’s a group of other performers but this is basically a two person show which is performed on a small budget but with plenty of invention.
And actually, there are some serious points to be drawn out of all the craziness. For a start it becomes rather a parable about any how any young performer with dreams of stage stardom has a number of obstacles to overcome. The cycle of auditions and rejections are all too real and then there are agents, casting directors and contracts to tackle along with the need to keep solvent by taking on non-acting jobs; at one stage Alex takes up a position in a hotel lobby aquarium. The show also nicely touches on the current ongoing debate about only using actors with a specific heritage/background/sexuality, etc. for certain roles. “I can’t even get a job playing a fish” he complains as he is not taken on for Disney’s The Little Mermaid (Peter Andre gets the gig). Perhaps species blind casting will be a thing in 2022 (?)
As this is a show about musical theatre there are, inevitably, some songs though I wouldn’t describe it as a full blown musical. There’s lots of pastiche of Lloyd Webber tunes and musical phrases as well as cheeky steals from Sondheim lyrics (not too much, of course, because of copyright) and if you’re well versed in the genre you will have great fun spotting the many references. And the pair can sing, particularly Oakfield. Does Alex get his chance to perform on the West End stage? As this is a piece about overcoming adversity, of course he does but in a quite ingenious way that I didn’t see coming so I won’t spoil it for you by revealing how. This totally whacky show could probably do with some judicious trimming to reduce the overall running time as there’s a danger it could become self-indulgent but once I accepted the initial premise I found a good deal to delight in. Who needs the mega musicals when you’ve got The Astonishing Singing Fish to fall back on?