In this latest podcast episode, Nabilah Said, Matthew Lyon and Naeem Kapadia discuss the recent production of Fika and Fishy by Patch and Punnet, the collective’s first production for the year about the friendship between a dog and a fish.
Trigger/Content warning: Allusions to domestic/sexual abuse
Nabilah Said (NS): Hello everyone, welcome to the podcast. My name is Nabilah Said, I’m the editor of ArtsEquator, and as usual I have with me Matt Lyon…
Matthew Lyon (ML): Hello.
NS: Naeem Kapadia…
Naeem Kapadia (NK): Hello.
NS: So today we’re going to talk about, well, it’s actually going to be a pretty short episode because we are only talking about one show…
ML: For a change…
NS: And that’s Fika and Fishy by Patch and Punnet, which is kind of a newish millennial theatre company. Let’s talk a bit about that.
ML: Self-advertised millennial, right? This is not just us being incredibly old—although I believe technically, you’re old millennials.
NS: Me and Naeem.
NK: We’re old millennials.
ML: I am not. At all.
NS: Yeah, so they bill themselves as creating a millennial theatre for millennials, by millennials… I think the whole team are all millennials.
NS: So Fika and Fishy… Naeem, would you like to tell us about it?
NK: Yeah, sure. Fika and Fishy is a play about the friendship between a goldfish called Fishy and a dog called Fika, and the goldfish has been around in a house for several years and is sort of old and jaded, whereas the dog has just arrived from a shelter, and is very happy and excitable… and they sort of get off on a pretty bad note, but eventually become friends.
ML: Yes, it was kind of an odd couple story with what superficially looks like a Pixar kind of vibe, but underneath that (or on top of that, or equally superficially, depending on how you look at it) a load of fucking swearing.
NK: So yeah, it really felt to me like a sitcom, because I think that was the kind of tone. It’s these two very unexpected characters… they would burst out into toilet humour, as Matt said, there was quite a fair bit of swearing, there was a lot of sexual jokes—and the audience generally enjoyed all of these things.
I just wasn’t sure that everything came together very well because what the show felt like was a kid’s show, but actually for adults, and I was waiting for that more adult element to come in, and I kept getting the merest hint of it. You know, you have this older, more jaded character stuck in their own world, wanting to break away, so the fish character talks about wanting to swim freely in a pond, things like that. And then we get the sense of this unseen human master who has a couple of questionable habits. And I would have liked to get a little bit more of that story and understand what these people were really trying to get at. I never got that.
NS: Yeah, because essentially the storyline is very, very simple, right? So that’s kind of where the children’s story comes into play, where it’s just like the fish wants freedom, and the dog has freedom, but the dog doesn’t know what to do with it. And they’ll help each other find their perfect ending.
But then the adult side of it is what Naeem was about: the human that you don’t see, but there’s a suggestion that he is kicking Fika…
ML: Yeah. There’s definitely abuse in there…
NS: There’s some kind of abuse, and it feels like there’s almost gaslighting happening. Because after he abuses her, he takes her out on a walk. So they’re alluding to some kind of abuse, and I felt that it was almost like… it made me think about a sexual abuse survivor having to deal with their perpetrator. But then they never quite revisit that story ever, right, towards the end?
ML: Yeah, it made me think of that as well, but only in the sense that my brain is doing a jigsaw, trying to put pieces together: it didn’t make me feel it.
NK: Exactly. And now that you mention it though, I think if they had actually gone down that route, it would have been such an effective play, because what better way to deal with something so difficult than through a cartoon-like story, you know, with characters involving animals.
NS: Yeah. And the staging might have helped it as well. So basically this whole play was staged in 11 Chander Road, which is a venue that’s like a shop house—a second floor of a shop house in Little India, almost like a loft space. And Fishy was set in a back room, right? So we saw her through a window without glass, essentially. And Sharmaine Goh, who plays Fishy, she’s kind of like in that room, whereas Fika who’s played by Ong Yi Xuan, she was in front—basically in front of the audience. And I felt that the back room could’ve been explored a lot more because it could be like a metaphor for the unseen human, or some kind of darker secrets going on.
But I mean the staging made it very interesting to me, because a lot of things that you wouldn’t usually see, you saw. So for example, the set changes, right?
ML: They had no wings. They had little control over the lighting… And those are, of course, not bad things. That means that you need to creatively solve those problems and find ways that you’re going to do your scene changes. It also creates a very different vibe – which I know they were aiming for, and I think came across quite successfully – of just being in the room. It kind of felt like a chill-out party. And there’s a bar behind you on the right… I think you had a gin, Naeem.
NK: Yeah. Exactly, and that’s why the whole vibe was this very… I felt it was a community-centre-sketch-show kind of vibe. And there’s nothing wrong with that because you can have a very good story, but it just felt a little bit sloppy to me—especially when you have these two scene changes where they do a transition from the house to an outdoor scene, and you have these stage hands coming in and taking off plants and putting up signposts and a post box and things like that. It’s a bit laboured.
ML: So, yeah, a lot of the things in the set were like paper cut-outs, just I guess Blu-tacked onto the wall or something. And the only scene change, which I think happens twice, is when they need to go from the master’s garden to the park. And they moved a lot more things than were necessary to do that: they kept taking off these little decorative elements—like there were three bricks stuck on the wall. You don’t need to take those off; it’s just wasting time.
I don’t really mind that for a young company cause that’s a… you look at your videos and you go, “Oh yeah, actually we didn’t really need to do that.” And often young companies who make that kind of mistake have a vibrancy and they have something to say. My biggest issue with this was, I don’t know what they had to say.
NS: I talked to them in a different podcast before this, right? And they wanted to talk about basically coming out of your comfort zone, which essentially is quite a simple idea. But then they tried to put in all these other things, right? Like for example, the abuse and things like that, which never went anywhere.
So I think… I don’t know, I feel like they were trying to go for like something that… you know they mentioned South Park, dimension, BoJack Horseman… Cartoons, but with very, very dark elements. But these darker elements, because they never came through, I feel like it was essentially neither a children’s show, nor really an adult theatre show.
ML: And I would’ve been fine with it going in either direction—and more to the point, both directions. Like we’ve been saying, it wasn’t dark enough, and I agree: I wanted it to go into a kind of heavy existentialist absurdism (but leavened by the comic side), but equally it wasn’t enough of a children’s show.
ML: It didn’t have that sense of wonder. It only had sporadic elements of physical creativity. So I wanted it to go both ways at once, but it was very much in the comfort zone of, “We’ve smashed these two things together, and we’ve just picked up the first thing that we found on the floor after the collision, and we’re fine with that.”
NK: Yeah, exactly. But I think, that being said, it’s probably worth mentioning that there were a couple of elements in this show that I thought were quite nice to watch. So one was the element of puppetry. So there are two scenes where the dog and the fish leave the house, because the dog is going to bring the fish to an outside pond—and you have these two stage hands come in, and we see the fish suddenly in a small little bag held by the dog… and it was quite nicely done. I actually thought that little transition was quite entertaining, and that was something I did enjoy watching.
The other thing was that there was live music as well—and not only music, but also effects by a trio (and I’ve got their names), so it’s Bennett Bay who did the sound effects as well as the guitar and long horn, Samuel Choon who did the violin, and Winston Koh who did the keyboard. And I kind of enjoyed the live music. It’s not something I expected at all for a play like this. So the fact that they actually had three musicians, they had a bit of puppetry, there were things going on which added to the overall sense of the show, and gave it a couple of nice dimensions.
But I think the key issue was, what were they trying to say? What was the issue at heart? I just couldn’t get to it.
ML: Yeah, it felt like you’ve just had your brainstorming session: “Oh, we want to do a play about this,” and then you haven’t empathically imagined it, or you haven’t done your research or… I think if an alien landed, and had never met human beings before, they could construct this play after watching the works of Pixar and South Park. I don’t think they’d have to meet an actual human being, because the experience of abuse in there just wasn’t…
NK: Explored at all.
NS: I think basically the way in which they treated the human-to-animal relationship, I think they squandered an opportunity there. I feel like the friendship between Fika and Fishy was actually quite lovable. And I felt that the actors really did quite a lot to make that friendship really realistic.
And I don’t know about you guys, but towards the end, which, you know, it ends with the death of Fishy… Oops. Can I say that?
ML: Put spoiler warnings!
NS: Okay, spoiler alert! I actually got, like, in millennial speak, I got the feels, you know, maybe a tear or two, which I felt was a credit to the actors who did a lot with essentially characters that were sketch characters.
NK: I completely agree, and we should actually mention… So Sharmaine did Fishy, and I really enjoyed her performance. She, as was mentioned, she’s in a back room. All we see throughout this entire one-hour show is her head. And just with her face, she managed to convey all that humour, that angst, just, you know, a couple of wry…
NS: Meta kind of references.
NK: There was a particularly funny moment, which we all talked about, where she raises both her non-existent hands and gives the middle finger to Fika. So there were a couple of moments which she did really, really well, so she did a great performance.
I was maybe slightly less convinced by the performance of Ong Yi Xuan as Fika. It got a bit grating for me, just because that kind of character with that level of energy… I just don’t think it can really withstand a play of this length.
ML: Yeah. In your standard play, that would be the kind of third-wheel support character who comes on for some light relief and then leaves before they get grating.
NS: I think she worked really hard to add nuance to everything that, you know, essentially didn’t need nuance. You know what I mean? Like, an excited dog—how long can you play that?
NK: I think that that’s why for me, the first thing that came to mind is it just felt very over-laboured, the entire performance. Like, you know, “Let me try to make this as non-human as possible in terms of all my mannerisms and everything.” And I think sometimes you could have just gone the other way and just made it very dry, and it could have actually been funny, which is what Fishy did. And I really, really enjoyed that, that brand of humor.
NS: And I think, Matt, you were talking about Sharmaine’s kind of like physical…
ML: Oh yeah. She’s only got her head, and the left-to-right, up-and-down motion of her upper body, without her shoulders or arms or anything like that. But there’s one point where she pretends to be dead. And you know how goldfish just slowly rise to the top and turn over? Despite the fact that one’s head cannot turn over 180 degrees, she just managed to move upwards and tilt her head enough so that you immediately knew that was happening. It was very skilful. It was skilful physical work, despite having a very limited physical palette.
NS: So can I address an elephant in the room? Which is, do you think that as so-called non-millennials, technically—like not millennials of the Patch and Punnet age, let’s put it that way… Do you think we are not getting something that their audiences might get?
ML: Maybe? But I don’t know… I’m a teacher for 16- to 18-year-olds, and I see a lot of work that my students do after they graduate. So I’m always around young people of this generation, if not exactly this age. And a lot of the work my students do is more meaningful and funnier; not always at the same time. But I feel like this show definitely needed to choose… If they just want to be funny, then okay, it needs to be funnier. The audience was politely laughing, but there were only a couple of belly laughs.
NK: This felt like a series of bullet points about what we would like to do. Just put together in a show and they’d written particular scenes, I imagine, but not really thought about it as a whole and what they were trying to achieve. So there were a lot of nuggets buried here and there. And that’s why, for me, the overwhelming feeling was, this was a sketch show.
NS: Yeah, it does feel like a YouTube series of short sketches, because it was essentially quite funny, you know what I mean? Like the premise of it can work—
ML: Its best bits condensed, yeah. But then as you say, you’ve got to question, “Is theatre the best medium for this?” Like, if I told you, watch this cool web cartoon, there’s some memes in it. Then yeah. Great.
NS: Yeah. Cause I was thinking about SNL, like, you know, some SNL sketch just don’t work? And this kind of feels a little bit like that. Like you have a really interesting idea; it needs more workshopping maybe. And essentially finding the real story of Fika and Fishy.
NK: Yeah. So that just brings us all the way back to the first thing we mentioned about millennial theatre, because I don’t like that term as well, I feel, because I think—
ML: We must point out we did not come up with this; they sell themselves that way, right?
NK: They sell themselves as a millennial theatre company, but you know, the way I see it, I don’t see why someone who’s 22 would not enjoy just good theatre. As opposed to someone who’s in their forties or fifties… I don’t see why there should be a specific genre or subgenre of theatre that is more targeted to that age group, because to be honest, I mean, I did a lot of theatre when I was in school, when I was in JC and when I was in university—and even the kind of plays that we tried to write, we had a clear idea. We had a couple of strong issues, which we wanted to talk about—be it politics or race or, or whatever else, basically. And obviously, you know, we would like using comedy. I think a lot of young people do enjoy comedy and I’ve no issue with that. But, you know, you can’t just stir everything into a porridge and just call that theatre: I think there needs to be some level of craft as well.
NS: I’m wondering if they are trying to… Because some of some of the people who are involved in this show have trained as actors or—
ML: Oh yes, of course. Krish is my former student. He was in SOTA.
ML: He was very, very good in a show I did with him. Just amazing.
NS: And Krish is the director, and he also wrote the…
ML: Yeah, co-writer…
NS: …wrote Fika and Fishy. And I feel like they are trying to explore the idea of meme humour and all. We don’t really see it a lot in theatre, right? I mean, we don’t see it in the established companies for sure. So they’re trying to discover this new brand of theatre. And you can see like in terms of how it was staged, with all the gin and all these things, like they’re trying to attract a certain different crowd, which maybe doesn’t watch theatre. So I can kind of see what they’re trying to go for. But essentially my issue with it, it’s neither here nor there. So I think that’s where it misses the mark personally for me.
ML: Well also you’re saying new, but what if I say to you, Avenue Q?
ML: What does this do that that doesn’t?
NS: I mean, it doesn’t have meme humour.
ML: Avenue Q?
ML: The Bad Idea Bears?
NS: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah…
ML: It’s got loads of that kind of stuff. Yeah. I don’t see any formal distinction between what this company is doing and what they did, except that Avenue Q is much, much, much better.
NS: I mean, that’s not a very fair comparison, I suppose.
ML: No, of course it isn’t, yeah. But also in its kind of ambition and how it wants to play with the form… As I said, things like the long set changes or all the stuff that is craft-based, I’m really happy to forgive that. But I want to see the ambition. And that ambition needn’t be…
We are relying on millennials to save the world. And I’m not saying they have to do the piece of theatre that’s going to save the world; but even if it’s just entertainment, I want some ambition.
NK: And I think is also just because we have seen some—I wouldn’t say amazing, but definitely promising works by similar younger theatre companies. I mean, just something which we watched very recently and spoke about in a previous podcast was The Hawker by the Second Breakfast Company. Something which I watched two years ago was Journeys, part of the Platform Series by GenerAsia. I’ve seen a lot of the early Skinned Knees productions. There have been a lot of these younger theatre companies that have tried to do theatre that I would say really holds up quite well against some of the more established players. And at the moment, just purely based on this show, I’m not very sure what to make of this company.
And I don’t think we want to be discouraging because obviously what we want is to see a thriving and flourishing scene that involves an entire spectrum of arts makers. But I think they just need to really find their voice and really know what they want.
NS: Yeah, I would want to watch what they do next in a sense, because I feel like this is a company that has a lot of ideas and they need to kind of just refine them. You know, previously they did The Adventures of Abhijeet, which was staged at M1 Fringe. So you know that they want to say something. But I suppose they need to think about what exactly it is.
I feel like they need to commit to one or the other. Like do they want to go full millennial or do they want to go really, I don’t know, social-issue-commentary, which this production hinted at. And when you hint at something, you give people expectations that, oh, it might go there.
Um, so do they want to do that? Or if they want to do something halfway, kind of in the middle, then they have to work a bit harder to do it, I suppose.
ML: Yeah. If you don’t have anything to say, you’re relying on craft. That’s hard for young companies. I’d rather they have something to say, personally.
NS: I’m sure they have something to say; they need to figure out what exactly it is.
ML: Yeah. That’s exactly what was frustrating, because underneath there, there must be something more important than this surface that got skimmed off for the play.
NS: Right. Well, you know what? I would say that it was a fun show.
NK: It was. It was. I did enjoy it, and I did like the moments of comedy that came up. There were some very nice little comic moments: there was a scene where they were trying to play hide and seek, and you had the goldfish trying to hide behind a little wooden beam…
ML: A two-inch thick wooden beam in the middle of the double window…
NK: You know, there were things like that. And there were obviously some slightly cruder sexual jokes, which admittedly did get a giggle or two, so, you know, there was humour, I’m not going to deny that.
ML: Those funny moments in a condensed skit would have been hilarious.
NS: Yeah, and I think the fact that they found an alternative venue to stage a show is actually pretty cool as well. You know, these younger companies, they might not be able to afford rent, so I really applaud that resourcefulness.
ML: Yeah, that was excellent.
NK: Just making it into a really casual… like a group of friends hanging out in an attic almost.
ML: And for what they were doing, the space worked. They worked the space fine.
NS: Yes, I thought they did quite well with the space.
And also during a time of like this COVID-19, they were measuring temperatures and all that. I really feel they are working hard to make this thing happen, you know? So I think that’s something to applaud them for. So yeah, thanks Patch and Punnet.
NK: Thank you. Yes. Look forward to what you come up with next.
NS: Yes, we do actually. We really do. Um, so we’ll see you next month where we’re going to look at another show—wait: a few shows… Well, we’ll figure it out and come back again next month. Thank you so much. Thanks guys.
ML: Thanks, bye-bye.