Reviewed – 7th September
“there are multiple scenes packed too tightly with action, making the plot slightly cumbersome to follow”
Jack McNamara’s The Fishermen has found success in multiple venues now: first at Home in Manchester, then at the Arcola in London; a sell-out stint at Edinburgh, and it’s back for another round in London at Trafalgar Studios.
Set in Southern Nigeria in the mid-90s, Obembe (Valentine Olukoga) returns home and is reunited with his younger brother Ben (David Alade) after eight years. Following a slightly tense first encounter, the two get to reminiscing, entertaining each other with impressions of family members and old faces from the community, and talking about old times. In doing so they unravel the incident which permanently scarred both their lives and led to Obembe’s running away.
Based on Chigozie Obioma’s Man Booker shortlisted novel by the same name, adaptor Gbolahan Obisesan has the unenviable task of condensing an entire novel in to a 75-minute play. It’s a lot to ask of a two-hander, however, and there are multiple scenes packed too tightly with action, making the plot slightly cumbersome to follow.
Alade and Olukoga do well to embody the roles of each of their family members as well as their younger selves, and for the most part it’s clear who is speaking and from when (the past or the present). The two find comic relief where they can, giving the audience an occasional reprieve from the play’s almost overwhelming intensity. But the device of looking back to times gone by, jokingly mimicking their mother and so on, doesn’t quite translate when they’re re-enacting serious family arguments or plots to murder for example – it’s not that the re-enactment doesn’t work for the plot, but rather the means by which they justify it. It might have been better if they had just performed it for the audience, rather than for each other.
The design (Amelia Jane Hankin) too is ambitious but overreaching: a curved row of metal poles imitates prison bars, and for the first ten minutes the brothers are divided by it. But thereafter, they’re walking through it, swapping places, standing side by side. It transpires that neither are in prison, rendering the bars just symbolic. Whilst I understand the gesture, the piecemeal manner by which the audience is trying to understand what happened means the bars are a red herring and quite distracting.
Both Alade and Olukoga are superb: Their familial bond is palpable as brotherly love grinds against old wounds. Whilst the novel’s nuanced tale doesn’t quite translate to such a short re-enactment, at least there’s no time to be distracted or bored, and the passion of the performances alone fully justifies The Fishermen’s adaptation.
Reviewed by Miriam Sallon
Photography by Pamela Raith
Trafalgar Studios until 12th October
Previously reviewed at this venue:
Reviewed – 3rd May 2018
“What makes Alade’s writing so good and the performance so powerful is the absence of prejudice, opinion or criticism”
Five boys gather at the funeral of a friend, the tragic victim of knife crime. As they recollect their experiences of growing up in South London they create an impression of the insecure lives they have grown to accept. In Fox Hunting, writer David Alade uses the verbatim technique, taking the testimonies of young people living through fear and self-preservation, each of whom has been involved in some way in the growing epidemic of knife crime. His exceptionally well-constructed script pieces these stories together on a colourful background of the subjects’ everyday lives.
Their tales illustrate the trajectories of many young people, some managing to step out of their situations but most falling back. There are brilliant performances from all five actors, both as their main characters and the various additional roles they play. They slip from serious, to funny, to sad, sometimes startling the audience with an unnerving threat. Their chemistry goes beyond the rehearsed unity of a cast, creating a sense of that close kinship between friends and the importance it holds.
Within a few seconds of their first appearance on stage, through a glance and a gait the personalities are defined. Terrel, (Chris J Gordon) with initial assurance in his stance, struggles to overcome the disappointment which snubs his aspirations and ultimately changes his life. He portrays a youth blighted by a blank future as he seethes with frustration and impotence. Searching for meaning and purpose, the look in Lawrence’s eyes (Devante Mavour) hints at the unexpected lingering inside which shapes his reactions as he gives up on his faith, dismissive and angry at its injustice. Jake’s bemused expression (Joshua Lewis) tells how the naiveté of his youth is overpowered by irrational social forces. He is crushed by his terror of those who threaten him and of his anxiety when offered help. Arriving with harmless bounce, Darral (Quinton Ariga) is wrapped up in a college life of simple pleasures, but he hides the security and protection he finds from carrying a knife, unaware of the consequences. Joshua (David Alade himself) is the picture of lost innocence, the inevitable prey that he compares to the fox in the road. Inoffensive, blameless and unprepared, he is caught off guard and pays the price.
The unostentatious lighting makes a bold statement in this unpretentious production. Moments of music fit aptly into the narrative while the unadorned set adapts to a variety of scenarios. Simple and powerful, this unvarnished style is true to nature of the Theatre of Fact, whose strength is that it voices the unheard truth.
We are familiar with the reports and statistics of knife crime but rarely have we encountered first-hand accounts. Fox Hunting gives us perspective and nuance. What makes Alade’s writing so good and the performance so powerful is the absence of prejudice, opinion or criticism. With insightful details, it touchingly describes where these boys come from, how they think and spend their time, their families and friends. It’s the underlying harmony to the discordant sense of fear which grips so many in society who suffer for the undeniable lack of support and education. But Fox Hunting also holds a precious stash of talent to be enjoyed now and nurtured for the future.
Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington
Photography by David Alade
Courtyard Theatre until 19th May