Review: The Fishermen, Derby Theatre

New Perspectives delivered a powerful piece of theatre in this skillfully adapted version of Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen.

The Man Booker prize-nominated story had been stripped back to just two characters, the surviving pair of the four brothers, Ben and Obembe played by Michael Ajao and Valentine Olukoga.

We met the other people who populated their lives as they shared their memories with each other.

The two actors displayed great empathy and energy as they shifted swiftly from character to character.

Director Jack McNamara managed to capture the true spirit of the book with the help of the superb writing of Gbolahan Obisesan, who himself has as intimate knowledge of growing up in Nigeria.

The distilled stage version differs considerally from the book and begins with the two brothers being reunited after eight years before they begin to recall the haunting story of the Agwu family in 1990s Africa.

The pace was certainly fast and at times it was an effort to keep up. As a result you found yourself enjoying the humour despite the fact they had already moved on to darker recollections.

The strict father of the four brothers was a determined man who wanted his sons to become successful “doctors, lawyers, professors or pilots”.

But when he travels away, as part of his job with the national bank, the boys bunk off school to go fishing in the river where they have been forbidden to go.

There they encounted Abulu, half madman, half prophet, who told the oldest brother Ikenna that he would die at the hands of a fisherman – that is by one of his siblings.

His dire warnings set the novel’s tragic plot in motion as before long the paranoid and suspicious Ikenna drives a wedge of hatred between himself and his younger brother Boja.

In a fight between the two Ikenna is stabbed to death and Boja is later found dead, floating in the family well. Obembe becomes obsessed with taking revenge on the prophet he holds responsible and persuades his ten-year-old brother Ben to help kill him. 

Panicking after the deed is done Obembe runs away and Ben is sentenced for the manslaughter. He was held for six years with only visits from a prison priest before he returned to his family.

The startlingly simple, yet incredibly effective, set by designer Amelia Jane Hankin was a series of upright metal poles which cut the stage in half, evoking the feelings of division and confrontation faced by the protagonists.

The clever lighting of Amy Mae was particularly effective during the compelling fight between the older brothers and the murder of the madman when the poles burned bright red.

The Fishermen can be seen at Derby Theatre tonight at 7.30pm. There is still a chance to get tickets if you are free.