The Fishermen

I make no secret of my general contempt for stage adaptations of books, with their clunky drama shoehorned into condensed narrative. Yet I have talked before about why I think storytelling, as opposed to drama/conflict driven performances, can produce more effective theatre. The Fishermen proves once and for all that a clever adaptation of a strong story that focuses on narrative can be utterly compelling.

Everything about this production is done to perfection. Actors Michael Ajao and Valentine Olukoga produce two of the best performances you will see at HOME this year with their ability to move swiftly between the two brothers in the present, and characters in their memories of the past. There is wonderful balance between light and dark emotions, between slow and fast, between old and new. Transition between scenes is mesmerising, and we are carried swiftly between the many places and times in which this story is set, between adult narrative and childhood drama. It is a privilege to see a skilled director, Jack McNamara, at work here, and for a production that is going to the Edinburgh Fringe, staging is clever and complex; the set of wooden platform/metal bars mirrors the actors in having multiple roles and characters, supported by impressive sound and lights.

Chigozie Obioma’s story (beautifully adapted by Gbolahan Obisesan) is driven by a prophecy that a fisherman will kill a brother, introducing the balance between mysticism/tradition, and the modern world. At heart this is a story about the conflict between past tradition and future opportunity, the promise of education to make a better life, and the way that the potential of Nigeria has been squandered. There are frequent and subtle nods to Nigerian culture, for example football, family values, politics and corruption but these gild the narrative rather than drive it. The lessons of the story could apply to many countries worldwide.

Structurally, the scenes where the adult brothers recreate the past are predominantly narrative driven, telling us what each person did at a given point in time. This is storytelling in its best form, reminiscent of Love of the Fireflies which was recently at HOME. The later childhood scenes are more recognisable as drama, creating the conflict and motivations of the young brothers as they carry out the deed that is central to the story. Yet it is the strength of the storytelling and the very strong performances that drive this superb play.

Photo: Michael Ajao (Ben) in The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma, adapted by Gbolahan Obisesan for New Perspectives, in association with HOME (19-28 July 2018). Photo by Pamela Raith

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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