Review: The Fishermen, Trafalgar Studios

The Fishermen is a masterpiece. It incorporates a poignant story, skilled acting and fantastic direction. It’s a highly captivating stage adaptation of the magnificent book by Chigozie Obioma. We are plunged into the heart of Nigeria and it takes us on a journey with such peaks and troughs that it’s a rollercoaster of an evening. David Alade and Valentine Olukoga are electric on stage and have a fraternal bond that runs deep. They are a dynamic force for the whole 70 minutes, and it’s hard to take our eyes off of them. They beautifully tell the gut-wrenching story of Ben and Obembe who end up facing the worst fate in the world. It’s heartwarming, chilling and powerful.

The play starts in a playful manner as the two brothers meet by a river bank and reflect on their past. They retell the story of their childhood by impersonating all the key figures in their lives. They snap from scenes from the past to the present with effortless ease and vivid clarity. The story is entirely engrossing and we feel invested in the brothers lives within the first minutes of the play. It is utterly horrifying at times, but it’s also hilarious when they lovingly imitate and poking fun at the vibrant characters in their family. By the end, it is genuinely touching and exquisite to witness. The Fishermen shows a multitude of emotions, studying the highs and lows of humanity and the destruction of these two young boys, merely because of the upbringing they received. The original story itself is faultless, and this staged version is as equally astounding.

Both Alade and Olukoga make the show what it is,  as they act at lightning speed, seamlessly switching characters in seconds. They perfectly create over twenty personalities between the two of them. Their child-like character is sweetly naïve and it makes us yearn to care for them. But as we start to love the boys, they suddenly swap to show their killer instinct and become scarily authoritative. I am particularly chilled by Alade’s eerie mad man character Abulu, who is the stuff of nightmares. The show allows Alade and Olukoga to show their versatility, with beatboxing, gymnastics, singing and dancing, not to mention their uncanny impressions of a fish and a chicken. The sheer energy of their performance is commendable and they act with authenticity and honesty. 

The direction by Jack McNamara is delightfully imaginative and he has superbly created this show with nuanced detail. The illusions he forms are brilliant, as every second of the show is meticulously constructed. The story is initially fast-paced which can be confusing and hard to follow at times, but as the pace slows and the story gradually unfolds, the clarity at the end is ever more enlightening. 

The Fishermen is already a deeply compelling and shocking story, and this stage adaptation brings the pages to life. It speaks real truth about human suffering and family connections. It’s a memorable evening that leaves the mind and heart buzzing with excitement. For me, this show truly reaches the full potential of theatre – which is to completely occupy our mind with another’s story, and leave us thinking of nothing else.

The Fishermen is playing at Trafalgar Studios until 12 October. For more information and tickets, visit the ATG Tickets website.