Having been given a fairly detailed description of the plot of The Fishermen, I arrived at the North Wall feeling well prepared for this powerful drama, but there was so much more to this play than the initial synopsis (which I will attempt to convey without giving away too much!).
One of the greatest achievements of this show - and there were many - was the way in which it built up and maintained tension, which stayed with me long after I left the theatre. A slight downside to this was that, after the twists and turns of the main story, the conclusion felt lacking in a final cathartic moment - although this was probably very deliberate, and indeed probably responsible for the fact my heart was still thudding noticeably an hour later.
The set was minimalist and very effective: removable poles formed a fence, which acted as a boundary over which the actors crossed multiple times, representing the switching between the characters as well as transcending other, graver boundaries. The versatility of the poles (they were also used as fishing rods at points) was overwhelmingly surpassed by the corresponding versatility of the play's stars, Michael Ajao and Valentine Olukoga. Their skill in evoking a whole cast of diverse personalities was nothing short of awesome: I liked Ajao less when he was Ikenna than when he was Ben - despite the transitions between the two being so quick and frequent. Ajao and Olukoga's ability to bring to life so many characters was complemented by their deft ease with physicality, variously using dancing and gesturing to bring even more energy to their performances.
Towards the beginning, the pacing of these many transitions were as confusing as they were enjoyable, but gradually it became easier to keep abreast of what was going on - so the audience went through a transformative loss of innocence in correspondence with the characters. The Biblical loss of innocence was one of the central themes of the story, although the river the boys decide to fish in is no
And much like a Greek tragedy, this piece has a timeless appeal. It doesn't matter that most members of the North Oxford audience may never have been to
Overall, this is a triumph of storytelling, skilfully employing every aspect of theatre - the dialogue, the clever set and lighting design, and the sparing use of music - to maximum effect, thanks to the direction of Jack McNamara and the adaptation of the novel by Gbolahan Obisesan (whom we will see more of in Oxford as he is one of the North Wall's new Associate Artists). I could go on for pages and pages about the different themes, which I hope is enough of a testament to how much is packed into the short running time, conveyed both in what is said and shown, and what is left to our imagination.