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In need of anchoring: The Fish Tales of Alaska at the Yard Theatre (***)

The Unhidden Collective’s debut production The Fish Tales of Alaska combines projection, film, music, soundscapes and dance to elucidate on the relationship between man and the sea – but without a solid plot to tie all of these elements to, the whole thing becomes quickly untethered. At The Yard Theatre.

Having spent the better part of six months’ work on the piece and collecting a wide array of artistic partners, The Unhidden Collective’s debut was always going to have a multi-faceted and original approach – as it turns out, a perfect one for The Yard Theatre, who have carved a real niche for themselves as a (now Empty Space award-winning) venue for new, experimental work. But, like oil in water, the elements have a tough time mixing well – which, fittingly enough, is one of the central images of the piece, projected on the back screen.

Within these ink/oil drops projections, two dancers (portraying waves) whirl in a collection of rather lovely pieces, embodying both the calm, lapping waves along a shore as well as the tempestuous, crashing force of water out on the open sea. Meanwhile, a trio of singers create a beautiful, unearthly music, somewhere between the emotional depth of Sigur Rós and a bouncier, poppier Björk sound, moving with the dancers and the projections to create some rather delightful imagery.

As well as this, there’s a nicely constructed film documenting the lives of fishermen in a small Alaskan fishing village. And cardboard cut-out film telling a folk tale of a fisherman and his relationship to the sea. And there’s set and props and an actress (Laura Freeman), nursing a pregnant belly, telling this folk tale to a tape recorder, presumably for her unborn child.

I couldn’t tell you for sure how all of these moments relate. There seems to be a connection between the tempo of the dance and the music in relation to the stories being told in the film, but how that relates to the pregnant mother I simply don’t know. At one point, the dancers and the mother interact in a greater dance piece, but what is trying to be said or implied is beyond me. In fact, throughout most of the piece, I felt completely lost at sea.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing: being a piece about the sea, it makes perfect sense that much of The Fish Tales is murky and unclear, a collection of images surfacing and sinking again at random. However, it would be so much more if there was a clear through-line: a story, a theme, some connection that need only come clear towards the end, something to make this more than the sum of its parts, the missing link to tying together all of these disparate strands into a safety net for the uninitiated.

Without anything like that, the show becomes a collection of pretty moments – a selection of impressive artistic endeavours, but not a cohesive product. What this new company are missing is someone with that in mind – I can imagine that, if the elements were more entangled, I’d be singing their praises from the rooftops. As it stands, I found each element hugely impressive, but that’s not enough to keep me engrossed for a full show.


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