Sophie Clark (Kate Novak) is almost like a modern-day wartime evacuee in Salmon and Wales. Removed from the bustle and busyness of the capital to friendly but nonetheless rural Wales, this schoolgirl comes of age in a messy, painful and – unfortunately for her – entirely plausible way. There is some excellent use of projections, never overused, and never a distraction to whatever else is going on. The use of voiceovers, which never completely lets up, may irritate purists who would wish to debate the supposed freshness of the live theatre experience in a production with recorded dialogue.
Here, though, it seemed to me to add to rather than subtract from the play. Almost inevitably for a one-actor show, there are going to be off-stage characters, and Novak gives an assured performance, without coming across as trying too hard. Often a one-man or one-woman show will have the said performer getting quite hot and bothered trying to achieve so much and voicing so many characters, which provides the audience with a mesmerising and impressive execution, but such displays of physical and vocal agility then threaten to overshadow the storyline itself. This show perfectly straddles the line between taking the audience on a journey and giving a credible performance.
‘Magnolia’, a story within this story – it isn’t exactly a sub-plot – uses the sea and the fish contained therein as an alternative kingdom. It’s all in the form of escapism from a stressful reality. And yes, there’s a little ‘whales / Wales’ play on words to either enjoy or moan at, or perhaps both. I couldn’t help having ‘Under The Sea’ from the Walt Disney Company’s The Little Mermaid in my head as this schoolgirl let her imagination run free, and it was an enjoyable few moments, the calm before the storm, before Sophie’s personal circumstances continued to become ever darker. The fantasy story also acts as a cathartic release, for both character and audience: as Sophie is unable to express herself properly in the classroom (for reasons set out in the play), it’s the only substantial opportunity to get to know how her mind ticks.
Had this been the National Theatre, there would have been copious amounts of fake blood all over the stage, and perhaps even the odd newspaper headline about members of the audience passing out at the depiction of domestic violence. Debatably, some very graphic descriptions outweigh the lack of staged portrayals of crimes against the person, insofar as the audience must engage its imagination, and in doing, is much more involved (for want of a better word) in Sophie’s journey. It is, in a sense, a nuanced breaching of the fourth wall.
A short and bittersweet show, this play offers no simple solutions or political stances to dealing with the issues it raises. A bit like life itself, really – I have no idea whether this piece of theatre has an autobiographical or biographical element to it. Either way, it is all very believable. Even if this sort of storyline has been tackled before, the approach taken by this production is unique and commendable. It would be a surprise if anyone came away from this show not having any sympathy for young Sophie in this simultaneously charming and hard-hitting (pun acknowledged but unintended) production.
Review by Chris Comaweng
Salmon and Wales is a one woman show which follows our girl (Sophie) from childhood to young adulthood. After losing her father at a young age, our girl uses her imagination to escape from the all too real abuse at the hands of her step-father. Seeking comfort in the freedom of the mysterious open sea and the creatures that dwell within, our girl finds relief in creating her own stories.
When she develops a friendship from across the pond, Polly begins to fill our girls’ reality with a hope and strength she never thought possible. But when Polly endures a life changing attack, our girl questions whether hope is enough, or if a change has to come once and for all.
Salmon and Wales
29 November 2016 – 3 December 2016 at 7:30pm