FISH EYE at the Ustinov Studio, Bath

Daniel Jameson’s current offering is a morality play.  The moral is a simple one: a suspicious mind can eagerly twist innocuous and innocent behaviour into something nefarious, so don’t judge on supposition. It is the mindset of the conspiracy theorist – if you look for harm you will find it.  When a mind becomes so twisted it begins to oppugn even the most rational and valid of explanations. Indeed, suggests Mr Jameson, it leads to the threshold of a slippery slope.  Given the current public debate over the level of surveillance society should tolerate in an age of terror from within, it is a moral we might all consider with care.

Anyway, enough said on that account; this is a bright little one-hander with plenty of smiles and chuckles to ease the medicine on its way.  Pam (Maggie O’Brien) the very model of cashmere and pleated suburbia, having been jolted out of her widowed ease by the theft of a treasured sideboard, decides to join the local Neighbourhood Watch.  Disappointed, not to say disgusted by their inefficiency and indifference and with suspicions aroused, she takes matters into her own hands. On the advice of a tech’ savvy nephew, who suggests how she might spy on her neighbours, she sews miniature fisheye lens cameras into little knitted fish characters which the neighbours innocently place – conveniently for Pam – in their living rooms.  Before long, paedophilia, animal cruelty and assassination are amongst the ‘crimes’ she appears to have discovered as a result of her increasingly time-consuming surveillance.

Ms O’Brien is majestically precise as she tumbles agog into a life of all-consuming snoopery.  Lithe and articulate in her movement, as one honed by summers on the tennis court and with the beautiful school-marmy diction of one used to making herself understood by attentive young minds, her slide into self-righteous vigilantism is oh so understandable and certainly no cause for regret.  She conveys the reluctant lure of intrusion as of a sex-deprived spinster discovering the delights of speed dating for charity; ‘Well one shouldn’t really, but it’s one’s duty after all’.

Director, Nikki Sved, plots a graceful curve into the modern, high tech version of curtain twitching, making it all seem so scarily public spirited.  She directs with a sharp ear for the cadences and foibles of suburbia. Trina Bramman’s impressionistic suburban set, with its sliding panels of net curtain, she uses to the full with barely a static moment (although even here Ms O’Brien’s marvellously animated face keeps up the action).  The repertoire of spooks’ moves she has encouraged in Pam seem delightfully uncharacteristic as she goes in search of – what we are coming to suspect is – what she wants to find.

Danny Wallington plays keyboards by the side of the stage, using Thomas Johnson’s score in the manner of a silent movie accompanist, adding, where appropriate, accents of suspense and surprise.

The play comes in at an un-taxing fifty odd minutes and, slight qualms about predictability aside, is an un-moralising moral for the times in a clever story well told.    ★★★☆☆   Graham Wyles    15th February 2017