When was the last time you went to a show where the performer provided home-cooked snacks? Danny Braverman does precisely that at the beginning of his delightful one man show Wot? No Fish!!
As we trickled into the theatre, Braverman stood onstage chattering away and encouraging us to taste the Gefilte Fish (boiled fish balls) that were circulating around the stalls. It felt oddly like communion; “I feel like we’re a big old family!” said the man sitting beside me. And in a strange way, we were a big family, joined together for only as long as the show (and fish balls) lasted. It was poignant and sweet, and was the perfect beginning to Braverman’s show.
As the lights finally go down, with people still munching on their Gefilte Fish, Braverman acknowledges the battered shoebox he has been holding. “Are you wondering what’s in the box?” he asks. We nod. “Oh good.” When he opens it, he shows us a wage packet from 1926, with a little sketch of a broom and bucket on it. Every Thursday, Braverman’s great-uncle Ab would give the housekeeping money to his wife Celie in one of these pay packets. On each envelope, drew a sketch for Celie, usually of the two of them, illustrating a part of their weekly lives. These delightful and evocative drawings tell the story of Ab and Celie’s life and marriage from 1926 to 1982, from their first weeks as newlyweds to the arrival of children, their experiences during the war (with Hitler depicted as a menacing puppet master) right up until their old age and death. It is a beautiful and simple story of love, told by Braverman with poignancy and tenderness.
While it is technically Braverman’s one man show, the real star of the show is Ab’s drawings. Braverman speculates about each drawing, shepherding us through the highs and lows of Ab and Celie’s lives, making well-educated guesses (with some help from “The Oracle of Mum”) about what each image depicts, and what it may have meant to his great uncle and aunt. He nestles each image in its own distinct family and cultural history, steering us through almost sixty years of pictures with an almost child-like curiosity and joy.
Braverman performs with restraint, and allows Ab’s art to do the work. Each image is shown to us via an overhead projector, while Braverman shuffles and sifts through the piles of pay packets with the dexterity and expertise of a Vegas Blackjack dealer. He tells the darker parts of Ab and Celie’s tale – they had an autistic son who was eventually sent to live in a psychiatric institution in the 1950s – with compassion and sensitivity. As the years progress, Braverman finds that he has been represented in the drawings, as a baby and then as a young boy, but he never allows himself to upstage his great-uncle’s artwork. Braverman breathes such life into Ab’s charming drawings, that by the end of the evening, Ab and Celie feel like your own family.
Wot? No Fish!! is one of the simplest shows I have seen, but it is also one of the most touching. Braverman describes history as a spiral staircase – the past always repeats itself, and though it may look the same, everything is slightly different. For someone as obsessed with family history as I am, this show is a gorgeous and beautifully constructed work which asks us to reflect on family, relationships, art and time. It is a show about love, and it is told with such love, that one cannot help but tear up with gratitude and joy.