The seemingly inexplicably-named Capricorn sees its action play out in the metaphoric fishbowl of a couple’s home…. or perhaps it is that we are in the water with them, as is suggested by teal-toned chair covers of audience seating at its world premiere in La Boite’s Roundhouse Theatre. It’s a confusion the perhaps sums up the new Australian work, which is clearly well-meaning in intention but maybe muddled in realisation.
The play, which is written and co-directed by Butchulla and Kabi Kabi creative Aidan Rowlingson (with Nadine McDonald-Dowd), tells the story of long term couple Ally (Jazleen Latrise) and Sam (Sean Bow) as they end their doomed relationship and try to separate their lives. It is unconventionally set, however, against the #goldfishgate sudden and mysterious disappearance of all of the world’s household fish and told with a sense of surrealism through the perspective of a fiercely fun truth-telling pet goldfish and pseudo couples counsellor Here Fishy Fishy Fishy (Kerri Llewy-Allan) who has transformed himself to help guide them towards fixing their problems.
After deciding that the increasing distance between her and Sam means that enough is enough, the staunchly uncompromising and largely-unlikeable Ally shares how enraged she still is. Unfortunately, for the audience, she is angry and cruel from the moment we meet her, raging at Sam with little pause for breath, let alone light and shade to allow us to catch up. The one-note tensions appear as if from nowhere, which makes it difficult to appreciate the potential seriousness of trauma at their core. Never seeing the couple in happiness gives us little investment in their relationship or motivation to empathise with their characters, and uneven pacing across its 90-minute duration means that when early hinted-at moments are realised or new emotional revelations are unveiled as the couple sees fate repeatedly calling them back together, it is too late to foster full audience engagement.
Clearly there is symbolic intention in the organic lines and changing aesthetics of Peter Keavy’s set design of Ally and Sam’s closed-in world of troubles. There is a lot of cleverness to the concept of “Capricorn”, such as its representation of signature character colours of blue and green, combined into teal. And Delvene Cockatoo-Collins’s design of Here Fishy Fishy Fishy’s costumes contributes to the aesthetic with varied vibrant ensembles of orange and white.
Llewy-Allan is a crowd favourite both as the flamboyant Here Fishy Fishy Fishy and in appearance as multiple characters on-screen. Although Here Fishy Fishy Fishy’s comic relief is more satisfying in later sassy commentary more so than initial childish reactions, his comic timing is brilliant throughout, aided by appropriate varied tones of angry frustration and amplified mockery as much as animated facial expressions in wonder about how thing can change if humans don’t talk about stuff.
Video projections (video design by Sasha Parlett of Red Handed Productions) of the television show ‘Sista Girls In the City’ and news broadcasts about the fish crisis are a wonderful showcase of Llewy-Allan’s versatility and talent, (especially in his defined and deliberate Prime Minister annunciation), even if they seem to serve as distraction from set changes rather than progress the core narrative along. And while escalation of the fish crisis provides much of the play’s humour, a conclusion to the socio-political satire side of the storyline is never really realised. Indeed, things are not entirely clear as to how the anthropomorphic fish fits into a scenario where goldfish around the world are disappearing.
Mentioned memories projected on the stage are not clearly visible by all audience members, but also not entirely necessary to follow the narrative. A soundproof glass-walled kitchen space, is, however, used innovatively, to convey a climatic conversation between Ally and Sam, through only amplified body language, in conjunction with Geoff Squires’ dramatic lighting design. Wil Hughes’s sound design is crisp, beyond just bubbling the entrances and exits of Here Fishy Fishy Fishy, layering moments with apt incidental sounds, and Waveney Yasso and Jhindu-Pedro Lawrie’s original music compositions enliven things, though this is sometimes at the expense of being able to clearly hear dialogue.
As its mainstage debut reveals, Capricorn is a new work of much potential with a lot to offer in terms of its support of emerging talent and amplification of the voices of First Nations creators on stage (the work is supported by a cast and crew of proud First Nations performers). While the 15+ work comes with caution as to its themes of sexual violence, depictions of suicide and domestic violence, among other warnings, there is a lot of appeal to its light-hearted (mostly fish-focussed) and quirky moment. It presents clear messaging around the value of growth, risk-taking, resilience, truth, vulnerability and seeing things from a different perspective. The play explores many themes, and clearly, there are multiple cultural and political levels upon which it can be considered, provided perhaps that audiences can access its fishy framing device as intended.