What is the best way of describing history? As a straight line? A circle, perhaps? Or something else? In Wot? No Fish!!, Danny Braverman suggests an alternative method of viewing the march of generations, telling an extraordinary story about one man’s documentation of his life and relationships. It’s an ecstatically optimistic piece, a beautiful story of a story, and all the better for being true.
Braverman’s Jewish great uncle Abraham married his wife Celie in 1926, and began to draw doodles on his wage packets so that she would have a memory of the week. They began as simple doodles of cleaning utensils, but soon blossomed into something far more. In the 50s, colour began to be introduced as they became more and more intricate representations of a life, and the accompanying drawings capture more and more. By using a selection of these images, Braverman infers a story – obviously he doesn’t know the details of what happened on a weekly basis, but family records mean he can piece together clues – telling us of the couple’s life, their two sons and an entire generation’s history. His delivery is cosy and intimate, encouraging response, like those moments when we sit round as a family and tell one another stories. For this hour, we are related.
The story is one of a particularly Jewish experience, complete with Friday night dinner and the yearly repetition of Passover. The threat of Hitler looms over the beginning of the piece, after which point the sour taste of anti-Semitism never quite dissipates. As well of being a completely personal journey, Wot? No Fish!! is also a tale of persecution, suffering, and getting by when others don’t care about you.
One of the most affecting moments occurs towards the end, as Braverman (who is subtly directed by Nick Philippou) finds himself in the images, unaware that his great uncle had sketched him into a personal history. This then moves what had been one man’s account of his history into something far more raw, and allows the piece to end on a buoyant note. I won’t ruin the final twist in the tale here, as the moment of reveal is joyful, but it’s one which galvanises you into believing that things do improve and that, with a bit of luck, we can continue our family stories in a better world.
Wot? No Fish!! is at Summerhall until 25 August. For more information and tickets visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.