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The Finborough Theatre presents


the European Premiere of


Little Fish


A musical by Michael John LaChiusa


Suggested by short stories by Deborah Eisenberg


Directed by Adam Lenson


Finborough Theatre


27 October-21 November, 2009








ary Couzens

A review by Chad Armitstead for EXTRA! EXTRA!


Adam Lenson’s Little Fish captures the neurotic creativity that rises and swirls like steam inside the pressure cooker that is New York.

Written by Michael John LaChiusa (book, music and lyrics), Little Fish follows the story of Charlotte  (Julia Worsley), an aspiring writer who announces “I had never known what I was really like until I stopped smoking, by which time there was hell to pay.”  As withdrawal sets in, she takes up swimming, then running, makes some, er, quirky friends and is haunted by the criticism of erudite ex-lover Robert (Michael Cantwell).

Lenson’s show transports its audience to a world filled with characters that seem to have been plucked from the streets of New York and dropped onstage. 

Suggested by the short stories of Deborah Eisenberg, Little Fish benefits from the painstaking portraiture that so many short story writers undertake on behalf of their characters.  The effect is a show that feels like portraits hung together by songs to form a poem about the city.

Bec Chippendale echoes this effect in his inventive set design that produces beds, cupboards and tables on command and is full of hinged empty frames that multi-task as bathroom mirrors and art frames.  Whenever the characters look at art, the audience sees the actors themselves as framed portraits.

Some of LaChiusa’s characters perhaps feel a little too real for comfort—particularly Charlotte’s slimy, portly, pelvic-thrusting boss Mr. Bunder (Nick Holder).  Bunder gives Charlotte an unwanted lesson in sexual harassment in his number “See It All the Time.”  Holder gives a delightfully oily performance of the tune, while Bunder’s one blazer button heroically strains to hold back his girth and unctuous ego. 

As Charlotte, Julia Worsley is dealt a difficult hand by a script that relies on a largely passive protagonist to drive its story.  Notwithstanding, Worsley manages to render an emotionally paralysed character with infectious energy, warmth and charm.

Michael Cantwell gives a powerful vocal performance as Charlotte’s terminally critical ex, Robert. 

The entire cast pulls off impressive diversity, from Alana Maria’s barometric Cinder to Laura Pitt-Pulford’s tragically optimistic Kathy.  It’s the cast’s versatility and energy that keeps the show from narrative lulls.

Though the story perhaps loses focus at times, LaChiusa rewards his audience with well-crafted songs and characters full of charm an insight.

While you may not be humming his tunes days after the show, LaChiusa’s score moves with some of the clockwork of Sondheim.  Scenes are short between songs that are up-tempo and energetic, moving each other like cogwheels.

LaChiusa’s message about the importance of allowing one’s self to desire, react and connect is clear.  But he certainly takes a risk in writing a protagonist whose goal is to have a goal.  While this production pulls it off with a lot of imagination, lesser companies might not clear the hurdles necessary to create a unified narrative with a character that’s not making many decisions—the kinds of decisions that bring them to crisis, resolution and important realisations.  But what’s theatre without a little risk-taking?

Lenson directs a musical that isn’t afraid to play.  Complete with comatose bodies floating in pools, glittering kickboards and a guy named Jesus doing lines of coke, Little Fish brims with invention and energy.  With an accomplished book, cast and direction, Little Fish is likely the best new fringe musical you’ll see this year.




£18, £14 concessions

Box office: 0844 847 1652






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