How do you make a show with a shoebox full of old wage packets? When you have an incredible collection of ink sketches drawn by your great uncle that charts the life and love of a working class Jewish couple. From 1926 until 1982, Ab Solomons presented his wife Celia with a doodle at the end of the working week that illustrated their shared joys, frustrations and sorrows.
With warmth and bonhomie (and a complementary Jewish snack of gefilte fish) Danny Braverman guides us through the enthralling history of Ab and Celia, filling us in on family connections and adventures as we go. Using the real wage packets – tiny envelopes a few inches across magnified for the audience – we witness the couple’s youthful passion, gradually tempered by the arrival of children and the stresses of work and home life. ‘Chrain’ is an important Yiddish word – one of many Braverman explains for us. It is the bittersweet flavour of a popular Jewish condiment, and epitomises the flavour of Ab and Celia’s life. Their love shines through these captivating, vivid vignettes: an ordinary man’s extraordinary folk art. Ab’s humour, frustration, sorrow and grief also glow within them.
A son (Larry) who would today be diagnosed with autism and epilepsy, eventually institutionalised; Hitler, the Blitz, rationing and evacuation; family squabbles and rainy holidays on the Essex coast; hardship; retirement; hospital visits and the death of beloved, innocent Larry: all are pictured in vivid sketches that are miniature masterpieces, every one.
Few shows are genuinely unique. This one is. More than a mere show, it is a testament to the compulsion and the redemptive value of art. Braverman provides us with an act of remembering that calls upon us all to remember, to share, and to love.
Wot? No Fish! is at the Brighthelm Centre, Brighton, until Weds 9 May.
By Simon Murnau