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Theatre Review The Fishermen, Trafalgar Studios London

Stunning reflections on the lost promise of a newly independent Nigeria

GBOLAHAN OBISESAN'S adaptation of Chigozie Obiome’s profoundly moving debut novel —shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize — played to packed audiences at last year’s Edinburgh Festival and this London transfer eloquently confirms why it garnered the plaudits.

This elegiac story of almost mythical significance is told through the tragedy of one family ripped apart by fate and a father’s hubris.

Benjamin, the youngest of four brothers, recalls childhood events when the boys deserted school to fish in a forbidden river, where they encountered a local madman. His prophetic curse in response to the taunts of the oldest of the siblings then plays out with a fated inevitability in a two-man production that runs at just over an hour.

Necessarily, it tackles the narrative without the author’s viscerally powerful and lengthy descriptions by initiating a meeting between the two surviving brothers as adults and their re-enactment of events maintains the African storytelling tradition that personalises the novel.

Benjamin, played with passion and a sense of innate loss by David Alade, initially views his older brother’s visit as an unwanted memory of the past. But as he begins to respond to charismatic Obembe (Valentine Olukoga), childhood memories, both tragic and funny, are relived.

On a simple stage, dominated by metal bars temporarily imprisoning characters from each other and the past from the present, the two actors recreate the world of their childhood, dynamically switching between characters as they encourage each other to recall past events.

Director Jack McNamara effectively handles the changes of tempo as the two actors effortlessly move between the guilt and recriminations of the adult brothers and their childhood games and recollections of their family.

Sickeningly violent beatings by their demanding father are played out in the present and, in the next instant, as a memory, while animals caught up in their tale are enacted with comic enthusiasm.

Throughout, the energy of the two exceptional performers drives the story with an intensity that offers a redemptive hope for both the characters and the world they inhabit.

A truly memorable production.

Runs until October 12. Box office: trafalgar-studios.com

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