Edinburgh Fringe 2018
In a small Nigerian town, Ben and Obembe, along with their two older brothers, slip away to fish at a forbidden river. Unnoticed and carefree, they continue until one day the prophecy of a madman changes the course of their lives forever.
Based on the Man-Booker Prize-nominated novel by Chigozie Obiama The Fishermen is a hard-hitting free-swinging fight to the finish from the moment the first words are uttered through the smoky darkness pierced with a snakelike fence of poles and sandbags. In the midst of the darkened stage we see a body only partly highlighted by moonlight or perhaps sunlight seen in a prison cell window, alive yet slumped in accepting resignation. Softly the silence is broken by a somewhat coarse yet strangely beautiful voice singing in a native tongue. A voice which is joined a moment later by another coming from the darkness of the house among the expectant if somewhat cautious audience.
We see two brothers, Obembe and Ben, meeting for the first time after being separated for eight years, singing together a song from their childhood in Southern Nigeria in the 1990s. The almost ethereal music gives way to voice and we begin a journey with the two recounting and reminiscing over their Igbo upbringing, engaging us in a heart-wrenching and gut-churning trip down memory lane, revisiting over and over the deaths of their two older brothers and the local madman’s prophecy which preceded them.
The physicality of the performances seems to burst out of the stage like a malevolent jack in the box hitting you right in stomach and then bouncing away gleefully – each of the performers seeming to feed on the other’s energy and vitality as they run, jump, and weave around the obstacles in their path and on the stage around them. The pace is frenetic and can, at times, obscure the narrative somewhat with dropped plot points and rushed dialogue, but the overall effect is as impressive as it is oppressive.
With such speed throughout the vision of the piece can be a little confusing and hard to follow but when the pace slows down there are some wonderful moments between the two performers and it is clear what a natural chemistry both the actors have.
Adding to the almost overbearing atmosphere is some impressive technical accomplishment with evocative sound and lighting as well as a simple yet effective set which comes into its own in the final scene during its own deconstruction, the brothers fighting among the upright spears in a vicious and dangerous ballet of anger, resentment, and blood.
This is not an easy piece to watch and certainly shocks as much as it impresses but there is a production here which is unlike anything you will see. A show that takes your breath away throughout. A beautiful, poignant, dangerous, terrifying, heart-breaking, gut-wrenching performance. A traumatic but transformational fight for life, freedom, and understanding.