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Review of The Fishermen at Trafalgar Studios

The Fisherman, New Perspectives, photocredit Robert Day
The Fisherman, New Perspectives, photo credit Robert Day

Mesmerising and muscular, Jack McNamara’s production is a must-see for fans of Chigozie Obioma’s celebrated novel, The Fishermen. Giving intense perspective to moments within the story and the internal worlds of two of the brothers, Ben and Obembe, who are key to the family saga of the novel, Gbolahan’s adaptation complements rather than attempts to recreate the novel’s story in full. This two-hander offers a deeply dramatic and visceral experience, aided by outstanding set, sound and lighting design (by Amelia Jane Hankin, Adam McCready and Amy Mae, respectively) and charismatic performances marked with powerful movement thanks to Kitty Winter’s movement choreography.

For those unfamiliar with Obioma’s Booker Prize short-listed novel, The Fishermen still offers an entrancing theatrical experience but could, in places, be a little tricky to follow if you’re intent on catching every plot detail and reference. However, there is no need to consume the story as if there will be a quiz later because part of the joy and wonder of this production is its elegiac and poetic feel. This one-act drama is not written for a big stage or a cast of thousands and nor is it intended to detail the backstory of every aspect of Obioma’s novel. Rather, it zeroes in on the moods and dreaminess appropriate for a prophecy-centred text.

Amelia Jane Hankin’s set is brilliant. Creating a spiked barrier that evokes prison cell, national boundaries and the walls of the family home, on which Ben (David Alade) and Obembe (Valentine Olukoga) stand on opposite sides much of the time, the tubular bars transform into alluring fishing rods which serve as symbols of freedom and rebellion as well as a vicious cane for a father to beat ‘civilisation’ into his son. The more sinister demarcations or uses of the material are present but not specified as soon as the lights come up – creating a powerful tension and foreshadowing with just the right lightness of touch.

David Alade, as Ben, and Valentine Olukoga, as Obembe, have outstanding chemistry together. At times comic, whilst at other times heart-breaking, Alade and Olukoga rise to the challenge of playing their own characters who in turn enact other characters in tribute or mockery as well as multi-roling. The pair fine-tuning the depiction of their mother is both hilarious and hypnotising in how readily and convincingly they have summoned the essence of another person as they know her. For a play pregnant with prophecy, the performers’ ability to create eerily foreboding moments through sheer technique is essential and Alade and Olukoga deliver handsomely. The physicality of the performances that both actors offer is skilful and intense. Their abilities are central to building Obioma’s world and succeed in bringing the audience to it. Together with the sparse but imagistic set, the effect is enveloping and perfectly economical – sparing us any gimmicks or indulgence but squarely transporting us to the locations and moods of the quiet neighbourhood of a Nigerian town and the places it takes the brothers.

Running until 12th October, do not wait to read the novel to book your tickets but, if you’re not familiar with it, I would suggest you start reading it to enhance your enjoyment of this play which can serve as a theatrical accompaniment or stand-alone drama.

4 stars

Review by Mary Beer

In a small Nigerian town Ben, Obembe and their two older brothers slip away to fish at a forbidden river. Unnoticed and carefree they continue until the prophecy of a madman changes the course of their lives forever.

Based on the Man Booker Prize shortlisted novel by one of Africa’s major new voices, New Perspectives’ critically acclaimed award-winning production of Chigozie Obioma’s powerful allegory of brotherhood, vengeance and fate adapted by Gbolahan Obisesan arrives in the West End for the first time.

Company Information
Based on the book by Chigozie Obioma
Directed by Jack McNamara
Adapted by Gbolahan Obisesan
Designed by Amelia Jane Hankin
Cast: David Alade, Valentine Olukoga

Booking Period: 3 September – 12 October 2019
Running Time: 70 minutes (no interval)
Age Restrictions: Ages 12+
Warning: This show contains violence, strobe lights, haze effects and cashew nuts.

The Fishermen
Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, Westminster, London SW1A 2DY

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  • Mary Beer

    Mary graduated with a cum laude degree in Theatre from Columbia University’s Barnard College in New York City. In addition to directing and stage managing several productions off-Broadway, Mary was awarded the Helen Prince Memorial Prize in Dramatic Composition for her play Subway Fare whilst in New York. Relocating to London, Mary has worked in the creative sector, mostly in television broadcast and production, since 1998. Her creative and strategic abilities in TV promotion, marketing and design have been recognised with over 20 industry awards including several Global Promax Golds. She is a founder member of multiple creative industry and arts organisations and has frequently served as an advisor to the Edinburgh International TV Festival.

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