Tag Archives: Jack McNamara

The Fishermen


Trafalgar Studios

The Fishermen

The Fishermen

Trafalgar Studios

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


The Fishermen

Trafalgar Studios until 12th October


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Coming Clean | ★★★★ | January 2019
Black Is The Color Of My Voice | ★★★ | February 2019
Soul Sessions | ★★★★ | February 2019
A Hundred Words For Snow | ★★★★★ | March 2019
Admissions | ★★★ | March 2019
Scary Bikers | ★★★★ | April 2019
Vincent River | ★★★★ | May 2019
Dark Sublime | ★★★ | June 2019
Equus | ★★★★★ | July 2019
Actually | ★★★★ | August 2019


Click here to see our most recent reviews


Love-Lies-Bleeding – 4 Stars



Print Room at the Coronet

Reviewed – 14th November 2018


“The cast’s depictions are all pin sharp, yet McGann stands out”


Alex is an artist enduring the final stages of his life following a brutal, second stroke. Living, barely, in the arid, American South West, he is the subject of practical and philosophical contemplations between his son Sean (Jack Wilkinson), second wife Toinette (Josie Lawrence) and fourth, younger wife Lia (Clara Indrani) as to when and how he should be guided into the beyond. We see Alex (Joe McGann) at different stages: in his cavorting and carefree prime, between strokes in a wheelchair, and finally in a vegetative state to be sedated at the whim of his significant others. His fate is now dependent on the trio’s conflicting views of him as a father or husband, as much as on their ponderings on morality and mortality.

As a novelist for whom writing is ‘a concentrated form of thinking’, Don DeLillo seems impossible to transfer stylistically to the stage. His slow and sublime evocation of mood and abstract themes don’t promise much for a theatre-goer to engage with. Director Jack McNamara admits his reservations were eventually overcome only by having the resources to create theatricality by other means. That he pulls it off is a noteworthy feat. Lily Arnold’s set design shows us the comfortable sofa and wooden floor of Alex’s home, essential for long, angsty interactions, but surrounding it is the sand and scrub that symbolises the immense unknown, creating a sense that Alex and everyone else sit at the edge of eternity. Over this scene looms a huge transparent screen, host to some stunning video and lighting effects (Azusa Ono and Andrzej Goulding) which somehow create the distance and nostalgia of memories by technical means, assisted by cinematic sound design from Alexandra Faye Braithwaite.

Given the sedentary nature of the main character, action is difficult to contrive. The brilliance of the script prompts regular chuckles of appreciation from the audience, but emotional connection is harder to come by. The cast’s depictions are all pin sharp, yet McGann stands out, despite or because of having the hardest task, by breathing authenticity into a mostly cerebral role; an artist creating art out of his bleak context. This may or may not be a parallel with De Lillo himself, but given the control and precision in every aspect of the play, including this production, it seems unlikely to be a coincidence.

A memorable production, this Love-Lies-Bleeding matches poetic imagery with precise staging. However, if you’re left pleasantly haunted by the show, it’s accompanied by a strange desire to find a copy of the text to experience it properly, as a reader.


Reviewed by Dominic Gettins

Photography by  Tristram Kenton



Print Room at the Coronet until 8th December


Previously reviewed at this venue:
The Open House | ★★★★ | January 2018
The Comet | ★★★★ | March 2018
How It Is (Part One) | ★★½ | May 2018
Act & Terminal 3 | ★★★★ | June 2018
The Outsider | ★★★★★ | September 2018


Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com