The Fishermen @ Assembly George Square

Two towering performances bring a Booker-shortlisted Nigerian novel to vivid, unforgettable life

Review by Jon Stapley | 08 Aug 2018
  • The Fishermen, Michael Ajao and Valentine Olukoga

On the banks of a polluted river by a Nigerian village, four young brothers go fishing. A chance encounter with a madman, an overheard prophecy that may or may not be gibberish, and their lives are agonisingly torn apart. This is the story of Chigozie Obioma’s debut novel The Fishermen, brought to the stage by New Perspectives.

Obioma’s novel is smartly distilled in adaptation by Gbolahan Obisesan – though the tale still concerns four brothers, we are principally concerned with the two youngest, Ben and Obembe. As they play across a stage littered with sandbags and metal poles, through their eyes we see the entire family, and the performances by Michael Ajao and Valentine Olukoga are spectacular. Ajao in particular is captivating to watch – his transitions between sweet, naive Ben and stern, serious Ikenna are breathtaking.

The physicality, range and energy of these two actors brings this great cast of characters sharply to life. We flick breathlessly from the younger boys, to their older brothers, to their stern, devout, hopeful parents, to the corrupt authorities that have polluted the country, and never for a second are we lost or confused.

If there’s one character not as exquisitely drawn as the others it’s second-oldest brother Boja. He’s the only one we can’t spot at the first word, expression or gesture, and this feels like something of a shame, especially in the latter act when the plot starts to turn around him.

Fortunately, the drawing of the family as a whole is so vivid that the great and terrible climax loses none of its punch. You know damn well what’s going to happen, but you hold your breath anyway, and seeing the young boys attempt to grapple with the consequences is devastating.

The Fishermen, Assembly George Square Studios, 2-27 Aug (not 13, 20), 1.20pm, £10.50-12.50

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