Born in Nigeria in 1986 and now based in the US, Obioma writes tales
that zoom in on small-town Nigeria, told in the mythic style of the Igbo literary tradition. The original novel was shortlisted for the 2015 Booker Prize, and Obioma’s latest book, An Orchestra of Minorities, has just been shortlisted for 2019. Now, this adaptation of his first novel is back in London for six weeks at Trafalgar Studios, after premiering at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2018 and touring the country with a finale at London’s Arcola Theatre. Given Chigozie Obioma’s record and recent nomination, the current run came with high expectations.
Quarters are close at Trafalgar Studios, which makes the performance near on immersive. There are moments where the audience erupt in laughter, and others where we're stunned to silence. Meanwhile the set, though simple, packs a punch: a series of upright metal poles arranged in an S-shape create spaces of imprisonment, separation and hiding, or when detached, serve equally well as impromptu fishing rods and weapons. A more complex set-up would rid the performance of its mythical uneasiness.
David Alade in The Fisherman, New Perspectives; image credits: Robert Day
Alade and Olukoga, as the two youngest brothers of the four, give charged performances. They tread between childishness and weariness, conveying the uncertainty of young people who have shouldered adult experience early. Their ability to slide between characters, rehearsing an earlier conversation between their parents or assuming the roles of their two older brothers, makes the stage feel alive with other presences. The audience is in stitches when Alade becomes the wriggling fish the brothers are trying to catch, and tries desperately to avoid eye-contact when he morphs into madman Abulu.
Though only two actors play a whole host of characters, and additional costumes and props are rarely used, Alade and Olukoga’s powers of mimicry suffice to keep the play clear. And an uncomfortable joviality pervades the whole performance. When one brother says to the other ‘Are you not playing anymore?’, we wonder just how trivial this re-enactment really is.
The characters’ emphasised Nigerian accents strike a slightly awkward chord. The play follows the Nigerian oral tradition, but emphasising its foreignness threatens to stilt the relationship between the brothers. But via this exaggeration, the actors can also cloud the clarity of their characters’ story. The tale they tell, supposedly their family history, verges on magical realism in its obscurity. The audience emerges with moralistic, yet obtuse, poetic quips like ‘If you don’t do the time, you’ll always be followed by the crime’ ingrained in memory.
Strong performances and a simple yet idealistically complex set make this production of The Fishermen one to catch over the next six weeks.
|What||The Fishermen, Trafalgar Studios review|
|Where||Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London, SW1A 2DY | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Charing Cross (underground)|
03 Sep 19 – 12 Oct 19, 7:45 PM – 8:55 PM
|Price||£20 – £30|
|Website||Click here for tickets and information|