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Black Dog Gold Fish review at Hen and Chickens, London – ‘surreal and funny’

The cast of Black Dog Gold Fish at the Hen and Chickens, London. Photo: Zac Macro The cast of Black Dog Gold Fish at the Hen and Chickens, London. Photo: Zac Macro
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The medium of dancing fish is one of the more unusual ways to tackle the issue of mental health on stage. Parrot in the Tank’s surrealist piece, Black Dog Gold Fish, tells the story of aquarium worker Remy who, in a zealous attempt to liberate the aquarium’s captives, squashes a goldfish. The ghost of the fish becomes a part of Remy’s guilt-ridden mind, a symbol of his depression as he pushes away his only friend, the work experience boy Kyle.

The world on stage is distorted as if through the glass of a fish bowl. Some things loom large in the refracted reality, like tennis ball pearls or the human-sized ghost of a goldfish (really a man in spandex). And every stage image, from the binbag-wrapped balloons that are jellyfish to the flickering fluorescent strip lights, contributes beautifully to the dreamy, trippy world of the show.

There’s a lovely incongruity between the three performers and their styles: Remy and the goldfish play the classic straight man/buffoon roles – and there’s a particularly feisty physical performance from Joe Boylan as the fish in a very revealing black unitard. They reflect each other, different sides of the same personality. Kyle Shephard as Kyle, on the other hand, is an outlier belonging more to the real world than to Remy’s dreamland. He is innocent, eager, friendly.

Through many fish dances and David Attenborough-aping narrations this Mighty Boosh style aquarium comes vividly alive. It’s a bizarre and often funny challenge to persistent and insidious stigmas.

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Surreal and funny exploration of mental health set in a bizarre aquarium