Edinburgh Festival: Wot? No Fish! (4 stars)

Rather than being the crazy, weird, off-the-wall show the title implies, this is a touching everyday love story delivered from the past on the back of the tiny envelopes people used to get their wages in. On these envelopes are hand-drawn cartoons, humorously depicting the real-life relationship of a couple, in weekly instalments from 1926-1982.

The man who drew them was show creator and performer Danny Braverman’s great uncle Ab – someone Danny never really talked to in his lifetime but who he came, like we do, to know through these remarkable pen-and-ink artworks.

Using a projector to show us a selection of the images, and his imagination (as well as interviews with family members) to speculate as to what they might mean, Danny charts the ups and downs of an East End Jewish couple’s marriage through some of the most defining decades of the 20th century.

Danny is a self-defined “schlump” and so is Ab, a shoemaker who continually paints himself as struggling to live up to the expectations of his glamorous wife, Celie. It seems likely, we are told, that Ab would have given Celie the wage packets with the weekly housekeeping money inside, the cartoons on the front a shared joke. And what a remarkable creation they are, depicting the couple defying the Blitz in the Second World War, moving up in the world during the early 1960s, dealing with their son’s mental health issues, and, eventually, getting older and all that comes with that.

Some are tantalisingly unexplained, such Celie visiting a divorce court, an “L” sign on her back. While Ab draws himself ageing, she is forever a beautiful young star at the centre of everything. After he retires, the images switch from black and white to glorious Technicolor.

Towards the end there are inevitably some very sad moments, yet the pictures themselves are anything but. Full of spark and energy, they are a celebration of two people’s love for one another and their life together – something that Ab, through his talent, has made immortal and that Danny, though a moving piece of theatre, generously shares.

Written for The Scotsman

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