The Blue Room Theatre

Review: Jan Hallam

It’s a good night at the theatre when you step through the doors with no clue and emerge 65 minutes later with a head buzzing with ideas. To be surprised, delighted and challenged is no mean feat and the team behind this work of creative intrigue achieved all three.

Frieda Lee (Little Fish) and Sam Hayes (multiple roles). Photo Susie Blachford.

In its parabolic telling, The Inconsequential Lives of Little Fish explores the dark trade of slavery which doggedly defies loud Western outrage and the scrutiny of human rights commissions. In this instance it is the actions of the international seafood industry that press gangs and tortures crews from the poorest countries and villages, then sells the fruit of those men’s ‘labours’ so cheaply to our very own supermarkets and restaurants that the cycle of cruelty and exploitation must continue. The ripple effect of the trade, of course, swirls up women and children and dumps them into their own horrendous poverty traps.

These are heavy ideas, indeed. However, in glorious Brechtian fashion, writer performer Frieda Lee has given voice to the innocent with such guilelessness as to lift the audience up and over the crashing waves of greed and corruption to a beach where hope can survive.

Lee is a playwright to watch. Her road to the theatre appears to have been longer than some. Her own story of working in NGOs in the Asia Pacific and the community legal sector here in Australia has no doubt informed the political current beneath this work. Her unique voice also captured the attention of the Malcolm Robertson Foundation, which recognised her play All His Beloved Children with a prize. She has also been a part of Black Swan State Theatre Company’s emerging writers group under the talented guiding hand of Jeffrey Jay Fowler.

With Little Fish, she combines an overarching naïf yet compelling narration, voiced by the eponymous and magical Little Fish, with scenes of gritty, brutal reality as the couple at the centre of the story struggle first to keep their young infant son alive amid their poverty, then to survive as individuals and as a family against the relentless and brutal economics of the developing world.       

Frieda Lee (performer/creator). Photo Susie Blachford.

There are only two actors on stage – Lee as Little Fish and the versatile Sam Hayes, who plays seven roles – from Little Fish’s husband, Fisherman, to her tormentor, Mommy. His puppetry was exquisite to watch. They were singularly impressive and together dramatic, playing beautifully off each other’s energies.

The play was deftly guided by producer Erin Lockyer, while Maeli Cherel and Etain Boscato did a magnificent job of the set and costumes, with Isaac Diamond adding dimension (and crowds) with his sound design and sensitive lighting from Phoebe Pilcher.

While the conclusions of the narrative are, while hopeful, ultimately ambiguous, the impact of witnessing it is not. Once seen, no one can view any Little Fish’s life as inconsequential ever again.

The Inconsequential Lives of Little Fish continues at The Blue Room until 22 September.