Nice Fish

Previewed 15 November 2016, Opened 25 November 2016, Closed 11 February 2017 at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London

The West End premiere of a new comedy Nice Fish in London, written by Louis Jenkins and Mark Rylance and starring Mark Rylance

On a frozen Minnesota lake, the ice is beginning to creak and groan. It's the end of the fishing season and two men are out on the ice angling for answers to life's larger questions.

Written for the stage by Mark Rylance and Louis Jenkins from the writings of Louis Jenkins. Claire van Kampen's acclaimed New York staging - presented at St Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn during February and March 2016 - comes to London with the entire New York cast: Mark Rylance, Jim Lichtscheidl, Kayli Carter, Bob Davis and Raye Birk. Directed by Claire van Kampen with sets by Todd Rosenthal, costumes by Ilona Somogyi, lighting by Japhy Weideman, sound by Scott W. Edwards and music by Claire van Kampen.

When this production opened here at the Harold Pinter Theatre in November 2016, Ian Shuttleworth in the Financial Times highlighted that "Mark Rylance's actual performance is compelling, and he clearly finds profundity in Louis Jenkins' work... Ultimately, though, they say nothing more than 'Gee, life's a funny old thing'." Dominic Maxwell in the Times asked: "What happens? Everything and nothing. With the emphasis on nothing. Yet Claire van Kampen's plaintively puckish staging makes an extraordinary kind of sense whenever the lively Rylance is around, which thankfully is most of the time... It's an oddity, but while Nice Fish can test your patience, it also ends up amply rewarding it." Henry Hitchings in the London Evening Standard thought that, "whenever Mark Rylance isnít at the centre of proceedings, drawling melancholically or footling with a singing Filet-o-Fish toy, the production falters... this 90-minute show may leave all but the most fervent of the actor's admirers hoping that his next theatre project will be more substantial." Michael Billington in the Guardian explained that "Mark Rylance and Louis Jenkins have fashioned a play out of the latterís prose poems that shows two men ice-fishing on a frozen lake in Minnesota. If it sounds odd, that is precisely what it is... If you are happy to watch Mark Rylance playing an eccentric loner who feels love and life have passed him by, this may be enough. Personally, I hunger for something more substantial." Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph said that "Nice Fish is a patience-baiting tragicomedy, directed by Rylance's wife, Claire Van Kampen... Is it a 'play'? No, more a series of vignettes, exchanges and soliloquies... Is it a tad pretentious? Borderline codswallop? Of course it is... Some will carp, some will say this stinks. But this is how Rylance came to be Rylance - doing things on his own idiosyncratic terms." Quentin Letts for the Daily Mail described it as being "a self-indulgent evening, the few audience laughs sounding forced."

Mark Rylance's stage acing credits include Claire van Kampen's play Farinelli and the King at the Duke of York's Theatre in 2015; Tim Carroll's all-male staging of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night at the Apollo Theatre in 2012; Jez Butterworth's critically acclaimed and award-winning play Jerusalem at the Apollo Theatre in 2010 and 2011; David Hirson's award-winning comedy La Bete at the Harold Pinter Theatre in 2010; Simon McBurne's revival of Samuel Beckett's Endgame at the Duchess Theatre in 2009; and Marc Camoletti's comedy Boeing Boeing at the Harold Pinter Theatre in 2007.

"Mark Rylance has got to the point where he can get up on stage and recite his favourite foodstuffs and people will cling to his every word. This is exactly what comes to pass in the Oscar winner's latest West End show in which he plays the doofus friend of a Minnesotan fisherman eking out the last of the season on a frozen lake. He solemnly recites broccoli and dark chocolate as gourmet faves while sporting a shapeless orange boiler suit - and has the audience in stitches. It's good to see Rylance, who has a reputation for emotionally eviscerating performances that make a virtue from the power of silence and stillness, let rip in this 90-minute oddity. He clowns about, gets tangled up in a tent and drops his phone down the ice hole. There's the strong whiff of ham, let alone fish, about his performance, but it's also ceaselessly entertaining. The actual play however, cobbled together by Rylance from the prose poems of his American friend Louis Jenkins, is a load of old baloney. It aspires towards poignancy in its depiction of a bunch of loners probing the mysteries of the cosmos under an icy Minnesota sky, but its pseudo-philosophising is firmly of the 'life is like a box of chocolates' variety. Claire van Kampen's production is stylistically all over the shop, too - a hodge podge of puppetry, slapstick and meta theatrical surrealism. Whenever Rylance isn't on stage the whole thing drags interminably." The London Metro

"Imagine Waiting For Godot staged on a frozen lake. Two men, old mates, dangling their rods in the deep, icy water, killing time, filling time, hoping to reel in something that makes some sense of their lives. They have lots to say about ageing. Not terribly original or profound... Sometimes quite funny... Watching ice melt is marginally more interesting than watching paint dry but if one of the actors werenít Mark Rylance, Iím not sure one would stay around for very long... The staging, by Claire van Kampen (Rylanceís wife), is exceptional... Itís nicely done but the piece is too whimsical, too flimsy, reaching for philosophical depths while staying in the shallows, with too little dramatic bait to hook one in." The Mail on Sunday

"There arenít enough plays about ice fishing in Minnesota. In fact, there arenít enough plays about the great outdoors anywhere. They tend to be urban and indoor, angsty and small ó like playwrights, perhaps. But Claire van Kampenís delightful production of Nice Fish, with design work by Todd Rosenthal, shows just how easily the outdoors can be evoked... The main hook, though, is Mark Rylance: actor, artistic director and now writer. He has put together the play with the poet Louis Jenkins, and the result is a series of evocative and often comical monologues. The interactions between characters are more faltering ó and the end result will definitely divide opinion... Nice Fish might engender impatience in some theatregoers expecting high drama. But if youíre happy with something more like a rambling dream, surreally funny, unhurried and humane, which seems to be about everything and nothing... then thereís much to enjoy." The Sunday Times

Nice Fish in London at the Harold Pinter Theatre previewed from 15 November 2016, opened on 25 November 2016 and closed on 11 February 2017.