A beautifully directed and acted adaptation by Fringe First-winning playwright Gbolahan Obisesan, The Fishermen builds on the power of Chigozie Obioma’s acclaimed novel – allowing us to experience two dynamic performances as this story of brotherhood, tragedy and Nigeria unfolds.
Skilfully adapted for the stage by Gbolahan Obisesan, Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen (which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 2015) is delivered by a thoughtful team and two powerful performances.
The story centres around two brothers, Ben and Obembe, and takes place over the course of one tense conversation – after years of separation have marred their relationship. The Fishermen unfolds like a tightly wound mystery as a series of fractured flashbacks moves the audience to try and piece together the reason for the present day state of their relationship. The design reflects the distance and inextricable connection between these brothers; a wall of metal poles, dividing the circular stage in the shape of a wave, is used to emphasise their confinement while also defining them in relation to one another. The staging’s artfully used throughout to evoke nostalgic memories of childhood as well as themes of isolation, imprisonment, and people spiralling out. It serves also to reinforce our journey as the audience towards the core of the story and what feels like the truth.
It would be remiss to discuss The Fishermen without stressing the quality of the two leading men, Michael Ajao and Valentine Olukoga. Both give stellar performances, transitioning between multiple characters fluidity with no one persona suffering due to a lack of character development. Both actors are consistently dynamic, and bring an undeniable weight to Obioma’s story. From the intense atmosphere they build through characterisation, to the complex backdrop of Nigeria which they portray, they’re a powerful force to behold. Ajao and Olukoga clearly trust one another in their performances and their chemistry is evident in the fact that they don’t allow the dense dialogue and sometimes confusing character-switching to stop them from building their rhythm.
The influence of the oral tradition on the novel version of The Fishermen is, as you would expect, quite apparent in its play adaption. The art of storytelling is used as a dramatic device within the content of the play while also being palpable in its structure; this is a tragedy of many parts and we witness this tragedy in different forms through the characters’ varying outcomes. For one of the more layered and interesting productions at the Fringe, this is an hour well spent – exhibiting clear craft at every stage of production.