Fish Can't Swim Backwards

Fri 27th – Sat 28th February 2015


Anna Wyn Davies

at 09:42 on 28th Feb 2015



Bellow Theatre’s one woman show, ‘Fish Can’t Swim Backwards’, is a moving and compelling play which deals with first loves, longing and fish.

Charlie Sellers’s performance as Annie is remarkable. She does not command the attention of the audience, but instead engages with us in a way that makes it the first one-actor play I've seen that has not made me feel uncomfortable. The meditative tone of the script does not come off as too self-indulgent, as Seller’s endearing normality is scarily relatable, as we all know the feeling of wanting something more from life but not quite knowing what that is.

The colloquial or conversational style of the script, as well as it’s non-liner form, compliments the play’s subject matter as Annie is obviously stuck in an uncomfortable and confused state. Dashes of humor bring a sense of humanity to the play as well, and with a short and sweet hour long run-time it is immersive enough without abusing one’s time or attention.

The main conceit of the play is the sea. It is unknown, vast and incomparable, just like life. The director’s simple staging takes us to the cliff Annie is on with just a simple graffiti-strewn bench. We are taken to this physical space. We are literally with her on top of this cliff. We are on the precipice, teetering on the verge of whether to move forward or “swim backward”. The use of the sound effect of the beeping of a life support machine adds to the tension building throughout the play, but it is and slightly repetitive towards the end.

‘Fish Can’t Swim Backwards’ is not a story of twist and turns, but the final (and only) twist is about much more than just creating shock factor. The play is made by the conversational script and endearing performance by Charlie Sellers. The simply staged but intimate setting allows the audience to engage completely with the actor and the dialogue, the soul of the play. It is intelligent without being intimidating, and it allows the audience to think about so much without the play needing to be high-art or conceptual. It spoke to me, and cuts-deep for someone who also feels lost, and when Annie realizes that she’s drifted too far it broke me into pieces. A must see for all.


Holly Harper

at 16:59 on 28th Feb 2015



Maureen Lennon’s new stage production Fish Can’t Swim Backwards is as intelligent as it is gripping, a narrative of a woman on the edge of a decision that will change everything, one preoccupied with the future and yet obsessively nostalgic.

At the heart of the play is the idea of memory, and indeed, the first thing the audience is greeted by as they enter the basement of Café Kino is a beautiful and hazy home video on loop, a couple, a beach: think Greece meets Cinema Paradiso. Yet, this rapturous and almost clichéd romance is undercut by the soundtrack, a carefully chosen playlist of songs by the band Daughter, both brilliantly depressing and a perfect match for Lennon’s production. By the time Charlie Sellers appears on stage as Annie, each member of the audience is transfixed. A single actress, her feet surrounded by sand, perching on a bench. We are forced into the slow realisation that this is no longer a home video on loop, this is life, this is reality.

The production is driven by this dual narrative, the incessantly joyous nostalgia of a relationship in its early stages and the harsh, mundane reality of everyday life. The story lines slowly converge to reveal the heartbreaking reality of the situation Annie finds herself in, on a bench in Weston-Super-Mare. The structure of the play works to abruptly ground us back in reality every so often, with Annie’s memories being consistently interrupted by a loud, almost clinical beeping noise. This is a world in which Annie is quickly losing control, with even her narrative slipping through her fingers.

Seller’s acting is strong: convincingly emotional throughout, she is able to play down the character as ordinary, almost everyday, when required. Her acting is surprisingly diverse, and the fact it takes place on a bench with almost no movement means that the accurate contortions of her face are all the more poignant. It is when her character stands up that the play reaches its emotional climax, a movement that is both deeply moving and empowering. Despite the title’s fatalistic belief in life’s futility, the ending of Lennon’s play suggests something completely different. A tragedy in all certainty, but one in which the female lead feels impelled to become more than just the mundane.


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