When writer and performer Danny Braverman inherited a shoebox that belonged to his great uncle Abraham ‘Ab’ Solomons, there was nothing for it but to share its contents with the world. Because inside that shoebox lay a lifetime of memories, an honest expression of love, and a witty and perceptive artistic talent. Uncle Ab had provided a chronicle of married life in London’s East End Jewish community, drawn on little brown wage slips. In Wot? No Fish!!, currently playing at the Battersea Arts Centre, Braverman shares this insight into Ab’s life.
One week in 1926, shoemaker Ab Solomons decided to doodle on the wage slip that he gave to a girl called Celie Brenner. Celie was Ab’s wife, but she was also his muse and his audience. Over the next sixty years, every week, Ab would draw snapshots of their life together. Humorous, tender, sober, even raunchy (!), Ab’s doodles to Celie give a glimpse into their relationship, their faith, and their community. As the years passed and the doodles became detailed miniature artworks, major events punctuate the drawings. Celie and Ab have two children, they survive the Blitz, and their son gets admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Their relationship is tested to the limit and they endure heartbreaking loss, but throughout, Ab continues his pictures for Celie, even graduating to Technicolor on his retirement.
In Wot? No Fish!! Danny Braverman carefully sifts through the 2,500 or so little brown wage packets to present snippets of his great uncle and aunt’s history. Using a projector to show each drawing, Braverman’s one-man show and tell is simple in its structure, taking us from birth to death and everything in between. His show is a mixture of lecture and performance, with Braverman including his audience in the story from the outset: handing out cooked fish balls for them to eat (delicious!) and throwing questions to those watching.
Braverman is an excellent storyteller, knowing how to please and enrapture his audience. He has clearly carefully studied Ab’s drawings, and offers his interpretation of what Ab might have been thinking and feeling. He masterfully presents his chosen selection of wage-packet drawings, turning over the envelopes like a fortune teller revealing life’s cards. Braverman also enlightens his audience, teaching them about religious and cultural traditions.
Wot? No Fish!! is a creation of the Bread & Circuses Theatre Company: a collaboration between Danny Braverman and director Nick Philippou. It runs at the Battersea Arts Centre until 19th July. It’s a fresh love story told through the eyes of a man who understands that every day matters, and is a delight to watch.
Review by Emma Slater
Wot? No Fish!!
Over 3000 never before seen pictures by an outsider artist will be exhibited for audiences to discover alongside the show. Writer and performer Danny Braverman received Theatre Centre’s Brian Way Award 2013 in recognition of the show’s wide appeal to a range of audiences.
Danny Braverman inherited a shoebox stuffed with thousands of scraps of paper that were unexpectedly revealed to be a unique record of 20th century London and Jewish life. From the 1920s to the 80s Danny’s great uncle, Ab Solomons, drew honest, comical and heartfelt pictures on his weekly wage-packets before giving them to his wife, Celie. In Wot? No Fish!! Danny delicately picks his way through these wage-packets, projects them onto a backdrop and brings them to life through animated storytelling, inviting audiences to discover the history and inner workings of the Solomons family.
Ab’s pictures continue without interruption against the backdrop of a changing city as he and Celie survive the Blitz, admit their son to a psychiatric hospital and become part of the Jewish community’s exodus from East to North West London. The illustrations also serve as snapshots of daily life – Ab spends as much time and care depicting quarrels over snore-filled nights and fish balls.
Battersea Arts Centre’s Council Chamber, itself steeped in rich history, provides a fitting setting for Ab and Celie’s story to be discovered. The setting is all the more poignant for being so close to The Nightingale House care home in Clapham, where Ab spent the last of his days.
It has been thirty years since writer and performer Danny Braverman and director Nick Phillipou first started making work together, with a focus on community and political engagement. Wot? No Fish!! marks their reunion with the show set to continue on an international tour.
This July, for the first time, audiences will be invited to cross the stage after the show and enter an antechamber to see for themselves thousands of Ab’s pictures. Displayed in chronological order, the illustrations chart 20th century history as well as the evolution of Ab’s artistic style – from playful doodles to detailed technicolour creations.
Wot? No Fish!! by bread&circuses
Battersea Arts Centre, Lavender Hill, SW11 5TN
1st to 19th July 2014
7:30pm (7pm on 3 July) Running Time: 75 minutes
1st to 5th July: All tickets £12
7th to 19th July: £15, £12 concessions
Box Office: 020 7223 2223 | www.bac.org.uk
Sunday 5th July 2014