Gbolahan Obisesan’s ‘The Fishermen’ adaptation – 100% Out of 100

I have never seen a production so full and rich staged in such a small arena.

The Fishermen’ is an adaptation of Chigozie Obioma’s novel of the same name, directed by Jack McNamara, and adapted by Gbolahan Obisesan.

The Arcola’s studio was the host to this spell-binding piece. Obioma’s writing has the ability to infect the audience with laughter and raw emotion simultaneously. No surprise then that the story Obisesan adapted from was so rife with splendour and beauty, love, laughter and tears, that the audience was on an ever-moving rollercoaster of feelings. The writing, in a word, is brilliant.

But this is not to take away from the genius work done by Obisesan to adapt this epic novel of great length into a play script no longer than an hour and a half. It takes great skill to distill the essence of a story from the vast and broad landscapes of a novel such as this, and he rose to the challenge exceptionally. What we saw was a fully articulated arc in itself.

The story begins at the end, with Obembe (Valentine Olukoga) returning home to a cold but deserved welcome from his younger brother Ben (Michael Ajao). As the tale unfolds, we are taken on a journey of brotherhood, vengeance, fate and the dangerous, almost potion-like recipe of toxic masculinity that is too often the tragic flaw of the black man.

These two powerhouse actors own the stage, embodying their main characters, but also the characters of the rest of their family, taking us through the tale as, in truth, it is a story about 4 brothers, not just the two we see. It is impossible to praise the two enough for how well they carried this show. It would also be unfair to praise them too much as every element of this show went into making it stellar. However, I will say Olukoga and Ajao are stars of the very near future if not tomorrow. They were mind-blowingly good in their story-telling, craft, delivery, and chemistry with each other. They are true family to each other on, and safe to say, off the stage.

The direction was unlike anything I have ever witnessed. McNamara definitely knew what he wanted and worked beautifully and symphonically in tandem with the set design, sound, and lighting to effortlessly create the ability to shift the mood and tone of the piece from funny, to silly, to heartbreaking to sinister, without missing a beat.

The physical direction and storytelling were also standout. The actors portrayed so much with their bodies from the eerie effect of nightmares to becoming a literal caught fish being reeled in on the river bank

Nothing was left to chance, no stone left unturned in this production. Put it this way, you will have missed out on a pivotal experience in life if you do not see this show. I’m hoping it will get another run.

The Fishermen played at the Arcola until the 22nd of September. It is currently on tour around the UK.

See if The Fisherman is coming to your town and book your tickets here.


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