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Best of VAULT Festival
Review 2015

Black Dog Gold Fish 

★★★★★

Writer/Director: Sam Bailey

Performers: Andrea Foa, Joe Connor, Joe Boylan, Kyle Shephard
25 January - 20 March 2022
vaultfestival.com

You should always take a chance to see a ‘work-in-progress’. Seeing a show at the early stage in its life offers audiences a rare and rewarding opportunity to see the creative machine that is a the heart of all theatre companies.

Black Dog Gold Fish was only 12 days old when I joined a packed audience down The Pit at Vault Festival but you would be hard pushed to have believed that. The show is based in the experience of the company’s writer/director Sam Bailey and his battle with clinical depression.  Remy, Andrea Foa, has been secretly freeing the fish from the aquarium he works for and tension between him and the aquarium boss Mr KyriacouJoe Connor, reaches boiling point. As Remy begins to withdraw from his life he convinces himself he has no purpose and becomes engulfed by his guilt and confusion.

With the help of a dead Gold Fish, Joe Boylan, the audience are shown fragments of Remy’s mind, his feelings, what he sees, and how he’s ends up on this downward spiral. His lack of sleep and food leads to his increased unsociable behaviour which leaves him to push away KyleKyle Shephard, the last person close to him. It almost seems inevitable that moment where there seems to be no hope and one becomes hostage to those voices that have taken a firm hold of us.

One of the hardest things I think we can do is talk about how we feel and depression is perhaps the hardest part of our self we can share with another person. There are multiple reasons as to why this is the case but one of the biggest difficulties we face in sharing our experiences is guilt, the guilt for feeling like this.

"The care they’ve shown in their performances is matched by their ability to find the humour in Bailey’s text that is at the heart of all of us."

Bailey writing has tried to be as open as possible which maintains a level of honesty that is reassuring but also keeps the audience at a slight distance. There is something incredibly powerful about how Bailey doesn’t try to give Remy all the answers, reasons, or solutions to the way that he has started to feel. With the conversations between Remy and the Gold Fish he slowly becomes able to verbalise, in his own way, his feelings but he never manages to fully take stock of them or the ever growing negative situation he’s finding himself in.

The relationship between Remy and the Gold Fish is toxic but symbolic of the guilt he’s feeling that has now become his burden. Even as the scenes between the two grow in fantastical fashion one is always aware that Remy is in fact alone and isolated from the world pushing himself further into the void.

One of the interesting aspects of the play comes during a role reversal scene in which the ‘fourth wall’ is completely shattered. This moment is surprising and in the first instance slightly baffling but offers a genuinely unique insight into the character that is unforgettable. The scene is able to keep the humour and the surrealism of the play as it begins to show the fragile state of Remy’s mind and how the lines of reality have become blurred.

There is an interesting amount of fun and understanding that the company have had in the 12 days they’ve been work shopping this play and the result is fresh. The care they’ve shown in their performances is matched by their ability to find the humour in Bailey’s text that is at the heart of all of us.

Anisha Fields design makes great use of the traverse staging and is packed with a low-fi feel that presents the complex state of mind that Remy is currently in. The design is a great complement to Bailey’s raw, funny, honest, and at times heartfelt text that presents a central character that is lost, damaged and confused but who hasn’t given in.

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