Natasha Ketel is engaged by Fishbowl, a play exploring family relations at the Durham Drama Festival.

“You don’t know how to love people without consuming them.”

Family is always complicated. Relationships between loved ones can often be strained and hurtful; brutal and tumultuous. But, these blood ties shape us into the people we are. This is what Fishbowl, written and directed by Lowri Mathias, teaches us.

The play follows Eilidh (Mary Lord), an uncertain, hesitant teenage girl who shrinks into the background of the lives of the people around her and undisputedly labels herself as a victim of her own family. She is in the process of bridging the gap between leaving school and entering into the rest of her life and is struggling to confront the reality of growing up. She finds it impossible to decide upon the nature of what her future may hold and is tentative to leave the difficulties of her past behind her, constantly reminiscing memories of bygone days. She lives in a fishbowl – trapped in a claustrophobic world of her own making.

Lord is strongest in the opening monologue of the play, immersing the audience into her complex life with the aid of vivid sound effects and Mathias’ luscious, lyrical language. This speech establishes the character as a lonely outcast- the outsider that is always watching but is never included in the action. Her vulnerabilities and inability to ever involve herself in the real world directly contrast with the explicit success, stability and striking confidence of her older sister, Fiona (Isabella Thompson), with whom she has an unhealthy, overpowering obsession. Thompson carries the show, conveying both ferocious disappointment in her family and undoubtedly tender care for her sister with such ease, primarily seen through her subtle body language and clarity of voice. Her Scottish accent, as with the rest of the cast, is faultless. In fact, the argument at night between Eilidh and Fiona is tense and especially notable. Yet, at times in the scene, Lord’s anger feels far too abrupt and would be even more affecting and heartfelt with a greater build-up of frustrated emotion. Regardless, the turbulent nature of the uneasy relationship between the sisters is palpable and convincing.

The quality of the performances given by Harrison Newsham and Katie Cervenak, playing Andrew, Fiona’s boyfriend, and Kirstie, Eilidh’s mother, is also high. They both provide a light comic relief that balances the underlying, ever-present hostility that almost exists as a physical, uncomfortable presence in the room, always haunting the characters. However, Mathias only scratches the surface of Eilidh’s relationship with her mother, whose delicacy is touched on and discussed by other characters but never fully developed. Cervenak’s sympathy and ability to convey a clear desire to help Eilidh move on from the pain of her past is made explicit through brilliant versatility in tone and emotional depth but certainly deserves a greater focus in the script.

The characters are all slowly picked apart by Mathias; their issues and insecurities gradually revealed and exposed to the audience. Yet, the show would further advantage from a somewhat faster pace in dialogue and movement to build a greater notion of tension during the moments of severe familial conflict. Plus, the script is sometimes strained with vague repetitions in speeches that could be cut down slightly. Despite this, Mathias herself has indicated that this show is not a finished product but a work in progress that she looks forward to developing in the future.

I certainly cannot wait to see what is next for Fishbowl. The play reveals the discord, resentment but also perennial love that is inherent in sisterhood and this domestic conflict is further accentuated with the details of the naturalistic, cosy home setting, helping to bring the touching performances to life. It is a straightforward but poignant production and the undeniable universality of its themes- family, love and indecision- are bound to make you think. In fact, you will find yourself reflecting not only over the characters’ predicaments and complications but also about yourself and your own actions.