Sydney Fringe Festival 2016 – Thinking Fish. (Theatre Review)
PACT emerging artists studio September 13 – 17
With all the talk about free speech, political correctness and the rise of victim mentality, an important point is being subsumed. Political correctness was never about protecting the attacked. Rather it imposed a requirement we think before we speak. The acknowledgement and punishment of sex and race related crimes are about the right of an individual to walk around without being violently harmed by the attitude of an attacker, but they are equally about forcing the attacker into a moment of reflection. As a woman active in the Australian work force for over twenty years, I can declare political correctness (and affirmative action) has been a remarkable success. Men I work with who hate political correctness as a movement, have found their attitudes to women in the workforce dramatically altered. They may credit this to their own intellect (and they do of course) but it is directly the cause of labour laws forcing the integration of females into the workforce and insisting on measured behaviour by those already languishing under the privilege of work.
It is this idea, that violent crime affects all of us, not just the victim, brought to the fore in Letitia Kellion’s Thinking Fish. With great intellectual dexterity, Kellion turns the spotlight of violent crime away from the victim and on to the society that professes to offer help. Nina is a bright young woman with the ability to charm those around her with an acerbic and fluid wit. Those around her include her boyfriend Jake, and her two best friends Mark and Caitlyn. Nina was horribly abused by her father, and is rebuilding her life. Caitlyn understands this to a degree and has allowed herself to be used as a safe harbour for Nina where the girl can forge her own trajectory into a functional womanhood. Problems arise for both Nina and Caitlyn when the men around them are overcome with protectionist feelings for Nina they misinterpret as her need. Now that Nina has left her parents and is dealing with her future, the biggest threat is not the understanding of her small society, it is their desire to use her problem for their own definition of self that causes this fragile group to fall apart.
Victim mentality is rarely a label defined by a sufferer. It is always imposed from without. In a society that allows rape, and race crime to flourish (and we do) the corollary of this is an over protectionist stand the individual uses as a wall between attitude and behaviour. I am not a rapist, because I would never hurt women and I will beat up any man I see (emphasis on see) hurting a woman. Chivalry is the other side of the male abuse coin. It is chivalry that presumes and reinforces female victim status. If we really want these crimes to end, we would not be as worried about freedom of speech as we would be concerned with what effect these crimes are having on all of us, and recognising language is part of the permission. There is a lesson here for the refugee advocate. Refugees do not need your sympathy nor do they need your pandering to cultural practises that go against the hard worn expectations of modern societies. They need a practical, real answer to the issues they fled from in their own countries. Problems we have allowed to foster.
Thinking Fish is a delightful little play with enormous ideas, and a lucid clarity that wins the audience over as it progresses. Currently showing at PACT theatre as part of the Sydney Fringe Festival, it is one of the gems we dream of finding in the joy and hectic chaos of the festival. Letitia Kellion writes, directs and performs the role of Nina and in a true devotion to her individual vision, pays all her actors with directorial respect, beautifully written words and best of all real money. She is rewarded with deep complicated performances, particularly from Alana Birtles as her friend Caitlyn, whose delicate emotional transformation on the stage is a beautiful journey to witness.
The complicated roles of boyfriend Jake (Ian Runeckles) and friend Mark (Valentin Lang) are beautifully wrought by the young men with Lang soliciting our sympathies and Runeckles our giggles. Runeckles has a great sense of comic timing and turns his role to a glorious comedy we don’t see coming. The male roles are written with sympathy but also an uncompromised critical eye that reveals their warmth for the meddling it really is.
Thinking Fish is what we go to the Fringe Festival for. A new writer offering a labour of love that emerges as a strong voice from the crowd.
Try to get to it if you can. You will be pleasantly surprised.