Assembly George Square Studios 12.15
🌟🌟🌟🌟 (Four Star)
One of the problems I’ve often found with theatre is that of pacing. While art forms such as film can use editing to make their narratives flow more easily, live performance is not afforded such luxuries. This often leaves modern theatre, especially badly written theatre, with a severe lack of agency, often feeling monotonous and stunted. The Fishermen, Gbolahan Obisesan’s adaptation of Chigozie Obioma’s award-winning novel, directed by Jack McNamara, proves to be an exception to this rule.
The play begins with a conversation between estranged brothers Ben and Obembe, the two men meeting after years of separation beside a river in an unnamed Nigerian town. The conversation acts as a framing device, the brothers recounting their childhood together and over the course of the play uncovering the trauma that lies at the heart of their lives. As the two men recount their upbringing, time and space begin to shift. The boys ‘play’ a whole cast of characters, including their older brothers, their parents, and younger versions of themselves, while the river bank on which they stand transforms into their old family home. The play is expertly written and directed, the bleeding together of past and present reflecting the rupturing effects of Ben and Obembe’s trauma, the horrors of their past haunting their present.
This fluidity is enforced through the strength of the acting in the play. The two actors, Valentine Olukoga and David Alade, have impressive command over their bodies, shifting seamlessly from character to character through the slightest changes in their physicality. One particularly powerful moment comes when Benplays the town’s ‘madman’, who prophesies the death of older brother Ikenna. Alade’s face appears transformed beyond recognition, his body writhing about the stage as he describes Ikenna’s death.
The Fishermen is overall a very accomplished piece of contemporary theatre. It is bolstered by strong performances from Olukoga and Alade and dynamic direction from McNamara, who reflect the destructive nature of trauma through the blending of past and present. While theatre, in general, might no longer feel as fresh as more modern art forms, works such as The Fishermen suggest that it still has relevance as a medium.