BWW Review: THE FISHERMEN, Trafalgar Studios
After a successful stint at the Edinburgh Fringe and a sold-out run at the Arcola at the end of last year, Gbolahan Obisesan's adaptation of Chigozie Obioma's novel The Fishermen is now at the Trafalgar Studios.
Lying down, Ben (David Alade) opens the show by gently singing a tune that floats away on the wind. His brother, Obembe (Valentine Olukoga), enters and sings along. When they were younger, Ben and Obembe fished with their older brothers in a polluted river, but a prophesy soon brought death and anger to their home. The two haven't seen each other for almost a decade and they soon talk of the circumstances that led the former to spend eight years in solitary confinement and the other to run away from a family that was full of tough love.
The jigsaws of the lives of these men are slowly put together during the play, which demands a dramatic dexterity that is ably met by both actors. The two shift between a host of different characters and animals, and the rapidity with which the piece shifts through its cast is not dissimilar to The Lehman Trilogy. With Jack McNamara's smart direction, David Alade and Valentine Olukoga move consistently with ease through them all, one minute a clucking chicken and the next a local madman.
At points, the transitions can be too rapid, leaving audiences playing catch-up, though this is perhaps unsurprising given that an entire novel has been condensed into a taut 70 minutes. While the actors commendably ensure the emotional resonance of each scene is not lost, a stronger demarcation of individual characters would clear up some confusion.
Embodying an intense physicality, Alade and Olukoga cast their nets widely over the audience and quickly haul them in. Moving from scenes of comedy, song and dance to those of pathos within seconds, the skill both exhibit is uncanny. Alade's portrayal of innocence works well against Olukoga's of experience, and it's easy to forget that at the piece's most gruesome, they are portraying boys who are barely (if at all) teenagers.
Designer Amelia Jane Hankin uses a curved line of metal rods to act as a form of porous separation. However, it's not long before they're pulled out and used as fishing rods, for example. One minute a neighbour's fence and the next the odious river, the set reminds audiences of how exploring memories is often accompanied by an imaginative flexibility.
For all its strength of will and character, however, the play is also not afraid to have moments of silence. Amy Mae's lighting strongly sets the tone for many scenes, the golden hue of childhood juxtaposed with the deep red of madness, whilst Kitty Winter's movement supervision of a fight scene between the older brothers, Ikenna and Boja, makes it brim with the horror of them breaking that familial bond.
The success of this show lies in its bristling energy. Lured in by the actors' performances, audiences are left reeling from both the play's emotional story and the simple yet always effective production. Chigozie Obioma's The Fishermen is undoubtedly an excellent catch.
Photograph credit: Robert Day.