Now back in London after a celebrated run at the Edinburgh Fringe, this Nigerian family drama by Chigozie Obioma (adapted by Gbolahan Obisesan) benefits from a deceptively simple set from Amelia Jane Hankin, exquisite lighting designed by Amy Mae, a muted soundscape from Adam McCready, and tight direction from Jack McNamara.
Actors David Alade and Valentine Olokuga play every role: Dad and Mother, four sons, a corrupt policeman, a nosy villager, a madman. It is unclear at first where we are, and why, and whether the story being recounted is true.
Displaying a heightened emotional state throughout which can turn from funny to chilling on a turn of a head, the cast tell the story of the fishermen with a great deal of physical engagement. These characters push, shove, punch, fight, and ultimately make a decision which is catastrophic for the whole family.
The script is economical, and the depiction of the typical Nigerian mother is funny; the scene with the madman, slobbering and prophesising, is horrific; the grieving dad discovering a secret is heartbreaking.
With a set simply made of scaffolding poles and sandbags, and the intimacy of the Trafalgar’s smallest studio bringing the action dangerously close to the front row, The Fishermen is intensely claustrophobic from the first scene, the poles initially forming a barrier between audience and story.
We were given badges at press night which depicted a fishing rod and thr line “you’re all I need”: a reference to both a song and a desecration, both strongly portrayed. This is not a frivolous play, but rather one which teases out familial loyalties through blood, sweat, vomit, spit and water.
The Fishermen is produced by New Perspectives and runs at the Trafalgar Studios until 12 October. Photo credits Robert Day.