Applause for another enterprising group of theatre folk who decided to get off their butts and start a company.
Fish Shak was launched when actors Ryan Hollyman and Paolo Mancini decided to do a play together. They enlisted director Courtenay Stevens, who brought in Steven McCarthy to co-direct.
The result, Morris Panych's Lawrence and Holloman, is playing at Bread and Circus, a bar in Kensington Market that's been turned into a shoebox-style theatre: a long, skinny area with a shallow performing space, stretched out across the whole room, and with the audience sitting in two rows along the length of the building. This is one show where the audience isn't hidden in a dark auditorium.
The play, which debuted nearly a decade ago at the Tarragon, is a strong two-hander. Like Panych's latest effort, Benevolence, it focuses on two people who strike up an unlikely relationship, though only one of the two is tenacious in pursuing the connection. While in Benevolence other figures interact with the central pair, the earlier piece is a two-hander.
Lawrence (Hollyman) is a loud, pushy, narcissistic, eternally optimistic salesman who meets the nerdy, logical, neurotic Holloman (Mancini) in the department store where they both work. Over drinks, they form a somewhat uncomfortable bond. As the fortunes of one sink, the other takes over caring and nurturing duties. It'd be wrong to give away more plot.
Hollyman is a wonderfully brash, engaging Lawrence, even in his self-centredness. He gets all the part's laughs, managing the character's groaner malapropisms with panache, and never turns off the audience, even at his most crass and smug. In some ways Mancini has the harder part, and there's a vague quality to his Holloman for much of the first act; he relies on squinting and a worried look to suggest all emotion. His work grows in the second half, as Holloman becomes increasingly secure.
Note to directors working in a small space -- if the audience is a few feet away from the action, have your actors pull in their performances. This is one case where bigger isn't better, even if a character is large-scale.
Still, Fish Shak's Lawrence And Holloman is an amusing, entertaining show, worth the trip to Kensington Market.
See Continuing on the theatre listings page.