Nice Fish

Theatre, Comedy
4 out of 5 stars
3 out of 5 stars
(10user reviews)
Mark Rylance
Mark Rylance and Jim Lichtscheidl
Mark Rylance and Jim Lichtscheidl

The brilliant Mark Rylance in an oddball comedy, co-written with poet Louis Jenkins

So you’re regularly fêted as the greatest stage actor on the planet and you’ve finally added an Oscar to your groaning shelfful of Tonys and Oliviers. Steven Spielberg has cast you in four films in a row. Do you take a holiday? Write that autobiography? Perhaps tackle one of those juicy Shakespearean roles for older male actors in a bombastic West End production?

Well you might, but not Mark Rylance, who has used his newfound clout to will into existence this endearingly strange piece of theatre, a surreal comedy about two middle-aged Midwesterners on an ice-fishing trip, in which the words are substantially drawn from the wry prose poems of one Louis Jenkins, whose works Rylance has previously performed at awards shows in lieu of acceptance speeches.

Given it substantially consists of short poems, ‘Nice Fish’ hangs together remarkably well as a story of two old friends on a strained midlife bonding trip. Rylance is utterly magnificent as the hapless, red-nosed, slightly douchebaggy Ron, who chugs Bud, falls over a lot and conspicuously fails to try and catch fish as he drunkenly mumbles Jenkins’s oblique little observations. As the much more earnest Erik, Jim Lichtscheidl is inevitably overshadowed by Rylance. But he’s an effective straight man, and he gets a couple of showstopper moments: a wonderfully bizarre poem/story about meeting his Swedish family, and the point when he finally loses his shit with Ron.

Claire van Kampen’s production is amusing and well judged, with startling blackouts at the end of each short scene underscoring the deadpan humour. And Todd Rosenthal’s slightly ersatz set and Sarah Wright’s puppets are a delight – at first it all just looks very cute, but as the play drifts on it occurs that this may not all be real, more an existential fable about middle age and mortality and less about an actual fishing trip.

There is no denying that it is pretty silly: if you dress up as a fish, you can bag free tickets to sit conspicuously in one of the boxes; the ending is completely, intentionally ridiculous. If it wasn’t for Rylance’s brilliance it would implode. But if it wasn’t for Rylance it wouldn’t exist. He is a very unusual man, but he is undoubtedly a brilliant one.

Average User Rating

3.2 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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A fantastically weird and wonderful show in which one of our national treasures Mark Rylance shines. Not at all what I think any one of us in the audience was expecting and yet the unexpected wit of the script and smart staging had me in quiet fits of laughter between scenes. A quirky and thought-provoking production.


I quite enjoyed Nice Fish, although not at all what I expected. If you're thinking light-hearted West End comedy, then you will be just as surprised.

Not having known Mark Rylance before attending Nice Fish, I was in for a surprise. The play starts out funny and packed with life wisdoms, disguised as jokes - nothing too heavy, but enough to understand you're not at a staging of Legally Blonde. Then gradually the play transforms into something entirely different, but once you accept this, you can easily float along with a slightly surreal, complex and yet simple plot (if you can call it that).

The stage decorations are fantastic - everything is created to the detail, like miniature trees and puppets, and the colours of it all, including costumes and lights, is stunning. The characters are mostly entertaining, although I personally can't give credit to Kayli Carter, who annoyed me to hell and back. But it's probably not her fault.

Rylance carries the show none the less with his loveable, if somewhat silly Ron, and the ending will truly leave you scratching your head. But if you're up for a little theatrical challenge, I definitely recommend booking a ticket.

Or, just show up dressed as a fish, and you'll get a free ticket to the box. (Why did no one tell me this?...)

I'm pretty surprised by the negativity surrounding Nice Fish. Absurdist theatre is certainly an acquired taste, and true-to-form, Nice fish plays fast and loose with plot, dialogue and messaging - but that's why I like it so much. A lack of meaning and direction is a theme, and it's being explored in both explicit and subtle ways throughout this script. If you enjoy absurdism's tendency to find deeper meaning in a lack of meaning, there's a lot to chew on here. 

Not only that, but Mark Rylance's performance is great. The part doesn't require the same wide range of No Man's Land for example, but Rylance plays on the mixed emotions of his character extremely well. Plus, the puppetry and set-design added to the enjoyment. 

If you're looking for a groundbreaking, rollercoaster ride of emotions, this isn't it - but if the idea of a great script and an exploration of the impact of life and memory, it's one for you. 


What is said about this play Rylance's acting makes it worth the pice of admission alone. He truly inhabits his role and is a pleasure to watch. The set is minimal but inventive, I liked the regular blackouts and the set piece comedic moments. I would say that it appears most of the comedy was front-loaded... the laughs were thick and fast in the first half of the play but when the other characters were introduced it did tend to slow down. When Rylance wasn't on stage or acting it did sag for me. 

I would have preferred a more cohesive and tangible end... there was a major moment when the fourth wall was broken, funny and clever but hold on it was never referenced again and that trivialised the moment. Pointless in the end. Dress up as a fish or a fisherman and get a free ticket and enjoy one of the world's best theatre actors.


I'm not personally a fan of absurdist theatre. There's nothing implicitly wrong with Nice Fish, it's got good production value; a gorgeous set, interesting props, and some very good actors. But the script honestly has a lot left to be desired. It's hard to pick out exactly what Nice Fish is trying to drive at here; yes it's atmospheric, but its attempts seem derivative of and emulating Beckett's Waiting For Godot, and doesn't quite hit the same mark. There's nothing particularly endearing about the two main characters' relationship either, and it's hard to understand just what role the woman and her grandfather have in the whole affair. If anything, it all seems like an elaborate frost-induced hallucination, and I was overall rather stumped by the end. Some glimpses of meaning, but overall, even Mark Rylance's name and acting can't save it from being forgettable. 

This is quirky, even whimsical story telling but I found it ultimately rather bland & unsatisfying. The set is clever, the cast are excellent & it was a pleasure to finally see Mark Rylance in real life but I didn't connect with the script & found the surreal end rather perplexing. Disappointed by my general feeling of bemusement tainted with a whiff of boredom. However other audience members were guffawing & there was a respectable standing ovation so maybe it's me not the show..


I’m still not quite sure what to think of Nice Fish.. the play is basically two guys, not necessarily friends, rambling on about random ideas and philosophies while out ice fishing in Minnesota. Mark Rylance’s character seems slightly slow but endearing and the other lead character, played by Louis Jenkins is much more matter of fact which balances the show out nicely. The humour is quite odd and the story jumps around but some points brought up really make you stop and think. The set uses extreme perspective to show a few cabins and people in the far off distance, but we were sat in the very top seats and it wasn’t as convincing from our viewpoint. I’m not sure if this is right, but the message I got from Nice Fish was slow down and enjoy the moment because life will pass you by before you know it. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this trip into theatre of the absurd and the surreal surroundings and events that take place out on the Minnesota ice (which makes for an unusual and rather lovely set). The two main and several subsidiary characters are full of whacky observations, funny stories and one line quips.  In a couple of places these only just avoid polite middle class "coziness" - for example, the jokes about ageing and forgetting things are somewhat predictable and stale - but the largely silver-haired matinee audience lapped them up, so what do I know?!) . But, in the main, the script is more interesting than that and the performers effortlessly take you into a very likeable world of slightly whimsical but strangely meaningful ramblings. As the show progresses, the surreality builds and, for me, the better it gets. Mark Rylance is, as you might imagine, at the excellent end of very-good-indeed. But so is everyone else! He might be the famous-est, but it's by no means a one-man effort.  So (as I expected from the pictures outside the theatre) it's different, it's very likeable, it's whimsical, it's odd and it's funny. But what I wasn't really expecting is that it's strangely 'deep', but I can't quite put my finger on exactly why or how.  I had been told that the script is (at least in part) a homage to Waiting for Godot - I totally agree, but I found it much (much) more accessible than Beckett and therefore much more fun! Finally, I must mention the theatre itself. The Harold Pinter is a lovely little historic gem of a West End Theatre and the staff are absolutely charming. Thanks to all for a very enjoyable and memorable afternoon.

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I have no idea how this play can get such good reviews. A plot is not existent, the acting is flat, the characters are uninteresting, the dialogues are nonsensical, the jokes are bad or nonexistent as well, and - most of all - the play possesses a condescending meta theater element which reveals its self-illusioun of grandour. Terrible play, truly terrible.

0 of 1 found helpful

I was full of hope reading the excellent reviews, so i took me and my family out to come and watch it, being a little sceptical it seemed odd but due to the excelle t revie s i paid the money and took my two sons and my wife to see this play, after a disaster with the tickets we finally arrived in the bar for a few drinks full of hope to view a masterpiece marked 4,6 out of 5 we were anxious to see it. However from start to finish it did not live up to the expectations iy was downright boring , dialogues were conducted by old jaded men who think they are funny ... no wonder it finished quickly in new York. Most boring play of the century play the kind of rubbish that I would not even get my cat to sit through. The dialogue was dull and slow i dropped off half way through! Please do not waste your money on this self indulgent boring waste of time! I feel decieved and cheated !