Shortly after her husband dies, Pam finds herself the victim of a burglary. Somebody – probably a neighbour – has stolen her Elizabethan sideboard. Unimpressed by the incompetence of the Neighbourhood Watch, and egged on by her tech-savvy nephew, Pam decides that the only way to solve the mystery is to watch the neighbourhood herself via a series of covert cameras. However, a quick glimpse behind the net curtains reveals a whole new string of strange and perverse events, and leads Pam to the conclusion that her neighbours are all up to no good. A dog-fighter, a paedophile and a psychotic Nazi-fanatic: that’s how Pam’s neighbours appear to her under the gaze of the fish eye.
Daniel Jamieson’s witty play’s characterisation of the well-intentioned Pam is both satirical and empathetic, and the world that he creates around her in this one-woman show is richly drawn.
But in some ways, unfortunately, the story feels a bit clichéd. Pam is very much the Alan Bennett archetype: the lonely, middle-class Suburbanite that becomes obsessed with the lives of other people (A Lady of Letters is a good example.) It’s a shame in some ways because it’s always the Pams of this world that are portrayed as the fanatical curtain-twitchers, but the truth is that we’re all voyeurs; we’re all nosy bastards, and we’re all intrigued by the secret lives of others. Why else would we read Hello magazine or gaffer tape spy-cams to our cats? Pam is the all too obvious scapegoat for a nation of rubberneckers – and although told in a funny and inventive way, hers is a story we’ve seen before.
Maggie O’Brien’s performance is great. She’s subtle and self-aware, and manages to captivate the audience for the entire hour, as she becomes increasingly obsessed. Her slick performance is aided by Danny Wallington’s eerie arrangements on synth and piano. The design of the set, lighting and use of multimedia all combine to make a piece which feels lively and compelling.
Ultimately, Fish Eye is a cautionary tale about snooping and getting the wrong end of the stick. It’s a darkly comic exploration of the way that people look under a lens, and how the truth can be obscured. What lets the performance down is its reliance on certain clichés, and the fact that it wraps itself up so neatly in conclusion.
It turns out (spoilers ahead, I suppose) that Pam has got it all wrong, and there is a long and immaculate tidying up that provides perfect explanations for all her neighbours’ behaviour. The Nazi is a reenactor, the dog-fighter’s a vet and the paedophile is nothing of the sort. This isn’t exactly a surprising twist. We suspect all along (surely) that Pam’s got the wrong idea, but the explanations themselves aren’t particularly interesting. If Arthur had turned out to be a Hitler fan, and Nigel a harmless porn-addict, this might have been a more interesting exploration of the issues of privacy and voyeurism. Instead what we’re left with is a very entertaining, but ultimately slightly too straightforward story.
Fish Eye is on until 11 February 2017 at the Bike Shed, and then touring. Click here for more details.