REVIEW: THE FISHERMEN (Trafalgar Studios 2) ★★★
Nigerian author Chigozie Obioma‘s 2015 Man Booker prize nominated debut novel, The Fishernen, is by all accounts an epic powerful read, so it is quite adventurous to take this tale and convert it into a two hander seventy minute play. But that is exactly what Gbolahan Obisesan and production company, New Perspectives, have attempted to do. Its previous outings at Home in Manchester, the Edinburgh Showcase and at the Arcola in London in 2018 were well received and it is now presented for six weeks at the intimate black box studio of Trafalgar Studio 2.
Set in Nigeria in the late eighties (and early nineties) it is a story of a family with four brothers and the events that changed their lives. It is told by the youngest two of these brothers, Ben ( David Alade) and Obembe (Valentin Olukoga) whose father has high expectations of them becoming a Doctor, Pilot, Professor or Vet but they are dramatically affected by a prophecy of a madman they meet. These two actors play all the parts in the story and while they successfully characterise Ben and Obembe and their parents, at other times the switches in characters are confusing and hard to follow. However they come across as engaging storytellers and excellent actors. They successfully create the fear and love of their relationship but if anything the script and director Jack McMamara just ask too much of them.
The set design by Andrea Jane Hankin has to serve multiple locations and the scaffold poles embedded in sand bags clearly represent the prison cell where we first meet Obembe when his brother returns home after eight years away. The scaffold also becomes the fishing rods as the two fisherman explain their passion for fishing and comically demonstrate the landing of a fish. At other times it becomes the trees they move through but is over used as they wind in and out of them on multiple occasions. I think it would have been more successful with a larger cast and a less symbolic set.
This is an interesting play but it does not have the power to shine a spotlight on different cultures like “The Kite Runner” or “A Thousand Splendid Suns” and although it is a relatively contemporary story about Nigeria, it comes across as a more traditional fable of an African family. Its success is because of the two performers whose hypnotic energy and magnetism drives the story along and brings the characters to life. In particular, they wonderfully portray the eight and ten year old boys caught up in the dangerous game spurred on by the madman’s prophecy. For those performances alone this is a play worth seeing.
Reviewed by Nick Wayne
Photo: Robert Day
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