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Review: The Fishermen, at Arcola Theatre

23 November, 2018 — By Paul Cowling

Valentine Olukoga and Michael Ajao in The Fishermen. Photo: Pamela Raith

BASED on the Man Booker shortlisted novel by Nigerian writer Chigozie Obioma, The Fishermen has been stripped to its bare bones by fellow countryman Gbolahan Obisesan.

The book has a layer of characters, but here just two actors play them all. Michael Ajao (Ben) and Valentine Olukoga (Obembe) play the two youngest of four brothers, but they switch to other family members, a pastor, a bribe-taking policeman, wriggling fishes, and Abulu the mad man, whose prophecy is the dark weight behind this allegorical tale.

Ben and Obembe meet for the first time in eight years, but they flashback to the 1990s, when they and their two elder brothers would go fishing in a forbidden river. In time, Abulu’s doom call sets off a fear that can’t be shaken off, that the eldest brother – Ikena – will be killed if the brothers carry on angling.

The Fishermen deals with patriarchal family pressure that can tear all apart – Mummy and Daddy wanting their four sons to be doctors and lawyers, because “academics are more valuable than sportsmen”. But the boys just want to play with a Gameboy or kick a football – and fish.

Ajao and Olukoga’s tight acting and stage chemistry ensure they morph into the other characters well, although it can get a tad confusing and chaotic. Because of the breakneck speed, some of the jokes are lost too. The simple set – a circular block with a swathe cut down the middle – acts as a blood-filled river, when subtle red light deflects down on it.

The pair do well with a modicum of props: An S-bend of aluminium poles can be fishing rods, or a dense bush when two males go on the run in the dead of night. But which brothers are running from what?

Until December 1
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