Elizabeth Kuri’s Fishskin Trousers is an ambitious play, a story of loss, grief and mythology spanning eight centuries, featuring only three characters.
Mab (Jessica Carroll), a servant woman in the 12th Century, gives an account of her encounters with the Wild Man of Orford, a half-man/half-fish, dragged ashore in nets by fisherman and locked up in the local castle. His screams of terror and pain haunt her, so, while scared and ignorant locals torture the man, Mab befriends him – and then remembers her family secret. And realises his.
800 years later, Australian scientist Ben (Brett Brown) comes to Orford to fix a military radar system. Ben, a talented man with a PhD from Stamford, is haunted by a frat ritual gone which killed his roommate five years ago. Getting away to the UK seemed to be just what he needed, but then he hears the mysterious noise coming from the water. A haunting noise he can’t quite identify.
30 years later, Mog (Eva Traynor), returns to her hometown of Orford pregnant and unsure of what to do next. A boat trip, just like she used to take when she was a teenager, seems like a good idea. Then she hears the haunting noise.
Throughout this play, which takes the form of a round robin of monologues from the three characters, Kuti slowly but deftly reveals what connects Mab, Ben and Mog. At first, it seems the trio’s stories have little in common other than Orford, but similarities emerge and the legend of the Wild Man seems to have been real, present and influential throughout the centuries, affecting their lives and those of others.
In many ways, Fishskin Trousers is a compelling watch, and Carroll, Brown and Traynor give fine performances, with Brown’s fish-out-of-water naivety a particular hit with the audience. Even the myth of the Wild Man and the mysterious noise, barely credible in the 20th and 21st Centuries, don’t seem so ridiculous. But Fishskin Trousers also feels slightly too neat and wrapped up, where a little mystery might have been more satisfying.