In 1926, Jewish shoemaker Ab Solomons draws a picture on his wage packet for his wife, Celie. They are love letters that he would continue to create week-by-week for the next 60 years.
The pictures shift in tone and subject, until they form an illustrated record.
With each wage packet a little more of Ab and Celie’s life is revealed: the joys of those early years of marriage, the first pregnancy, parenthood, World War II, contemplation of divorce, a child with disability. It is remarkable how few are lost; each packet is kept in a shoebox and years later they are passed down to Ab’s great-nephew, performer Danny Braverman.
Wot? No Fish!! is family history on the stage. Braverman has created a one-man show that explores love, conflict, politics and art.
The performer is charismatic and effortless. He wanders onto the stage before the audience is settled and offers food from his childhood. Like a school show-and-tell, the illustrations are presented.
Braverman slides them under an overhead projector and points out the details you might have missed. The simple format showcases the artistry of the wage packets and his own intricate storytelling, which draws on his mother’s memories and speculation to fill the gaps.
The humour in Wot? No Fish!! comes from Ab’s keen wit and sense of humour. He depicts the hilarities of family life and juxtaposes his wife’s stealing of the bedsheets with Hitler’s territorial advances in the war. However, he does not shy away from the low points in life and marriage — from his son’s death to the threat of divorce.
To fully understand the references, this show is best enjoyed with age or nostalgia for Jewish food and traditions. But no matter what your personal experience, there is no denying the emotional impact of Ab and Celie’s domestic struggles set against the backdrop of the Great Depression, the rise of anti-Semitism and World War II.
Wot? No Fish!! won the Brian Way Award for Best New Play in 2013 and has since toured internationally, earning acclaim in the United States and Britain before opening at the Adelaide Festival.
Wot? No Fish!! is being presented by Bread&Circuses at AC Arts Main Theatre until March 7 as part of the Adelaide Festival.
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