Shinehouse Theatre’s Fish (part of Summerhall’s Taiwan Season) is essentially a storytelling piece in which puppets have little importance, regardless of the effort that went into the detailed puppetry. It’s a sad story of a stolen fish and exploitation of the poor with an equally sad ending.
Taiwan Season: Fish is – in some ways – a wonderfully inclusive performance with sign language and surtitles welcoming a wide range of audience members. The sign language is beautifully incorporated into the staging, never seeming like an afterthought.
With seven actors on stage, the two main characters – Acha and his grandfather – each have two actors delivering their lines (one voicing, one signing), thus always making sure that it’s fully clear to everyone which character is speaking. Two of the remaining actors work with the puppet, while one narrates the story.
As someone who focuses on international theatre, I’m very used to surtitles – however, due to the large amount of text originally spoken in Taiwanese, it was often difficult to follow them in Taiwan Season: Fish. The story of a young boy trying to surprise his poor grandfather by bringing him a fish to eat, as adapted from a novel by Huang Chun-ming, is mainly told through text-heavy narration and is lacking in visual depiction which would help cross the language barrier. While it is interesting to see the puppetry work in the performance, it is not enough to communicate the tale effectively.
The puppet work in the show is surprisingly detailed, and they do manage to manipulate them to convey emotions well – helped further by the narrator’s tone of voice which changes appropriately. However, Taiwan Season: Fish is aiming to tell a much more nuanced and complicated story, which, for me, in the end resulted in 4o minutes of watching the surtitle screen (just to try and keep up with the narrative) and only catching a glimpse of performance every now and then, making for a not so enjoyable viewing experience.