The fact that The Fishermen is based on Chigozie Obioma's bestselling novel of the same name is literally the least interesting element here. It's a production which not only stands on its own, but stands tall on the back of two stonking performances.
Between them, Michael Ajao and Valentine Olukoga play a cast of thousands (give or take) in a Nigerian village, during the military rule of Sani Abacha. The story, though, centres on four brothers, who Ajao and Olukoga share out between them. We're never in any doubt as to who is who. There's a lovely opener where brothers Ben and Obembe meet for the first time in years, and impersonate their other two brothers. Ajou is all gangly awkwardness for a young Ikenna, all edgy swagger as he ages. Olukoga's bouncy youthfulness as Boja lets slip the hint of future tragedy. It feels a touch workshopped—a means of articulating character for both performer and audience alike—but it's handled beautifully, and impersonation is allowed to drift into retelling. And into tragedy.
Gbolahan Obisesan's adaptation of the novel picks out the drama without shutting down imaginative space. One can read this performance in a number of ways: as a Cain and Abel retelling; as metaphor for a divided, fratricidal nation; as a warning about Nigeria's present. The river the brothers return to is "still as eerie as I remembered", after all. There are a few sound effects that feel like overkill for such engaging performances. Amy Mae's lighting design, though, is worth the visit alone. This a confident staging, and there's so much to be confident about.
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