It’s a wonder some bright spark in the marketing department didn’t think to call this play A Fisherman’s Friend.

Not only would it describe the two protagonists at the heart of this bizarre philosophical comedy but, like the little lozenge, some will find it a refreshing antidote to the wintry climes, and others… Well, they’ll just want to know: ‘What is it?’

Because Mark Rylance’s new play, self-penned with poet Louis Jenkins, is about as far removed from the crowns and courts of Wolf Hall as it gets. And then some.

It ponders on two friends, studiously attending to their rather inactive rods as they camp out on a frozen lake. Rylance plays Ron, an amiable but clumsy simpleton who is dressed like Kenny from South Park and blundering his way through his first fishing expedition. 

Mark Rylance and Jim Lichtscheidl (photos by Teddy Woolf)

Erik is played by Jim Lichtscheidl, his more seriously-minded and melancholic friend. As they pass the time waiting to land the big one, there are plenty of laughs and nimble slapstick comedy, especially when Ron drops his phone down the fishing hole and both are buffeted sideways battling the ferocious icy blasts.

But that’s where any nominal notion of a plot disappears. 

Bob Davis’ pompous and officious police officer is putting the two fishermen through the regulatory wringer with much hilarity when, without rhyme nor reason, he reveals himself to be an earthly saint, floating along three inches off the floor and changing direction with nods of his head. From there it veers off into such strange territory that you might as well ask the fish what’s going on. The two friends muse on unrelated subjects which, while still funny in places, seemingly come from characters vastly different from those larking around at the outset.

There's some beautifully realistic puppetry weaved throughout. And the simple set – a single sloped sheet of bright white ice that jags over the front of the stage – is effective and cleverly used. The supporting cast all put in entertaining turns, even if you don’t know who their characters are or what they’re on about half the time.

Ultimately, it’s Rylance’s charm and ability to play the clown that holds all the disparate pieces together in this strange absurdist piece. If you simply want to see him put in a superb performance, you won’t be disappointed. But, unlike that little lozenge, you’ll come away feeling rather less clear after a dose of this fisherman’s friend. 

Nice Fish is at Harold Pinter Theatre until 11 Feb


 Book tickets for Nice Fish from the Radio Times box office


You might also like...

Just the ticket! 10 stage shows that make great Christmas presents for friends and family

King Lear review: Glenda Jackson returns to the stage as Shakespeare's tragic hero

Lazarus review: Dexter's Michael C Hall stars in David Bowie's musical