Two brothers meet by the banks of a river in Nigeria, the same river which saw them turn from children into fishermen many years before. Separated by eight years and a world of experience, it is an uneasy reunion. What follows is a remarkable journey into the lives and losses of a family torn apart by tragedy and violence.
A work which is brimming with confidence and narrative power
Based on the 2015 Man Booker prize-nominated family epic novel of the same name, that lengthy bit of fiction has been refined down to a slick two-hander by playwright Gbolahan Obisesan. Bringing the work to the stage is East Midlands-based touring theatre company New Perspectives and bringing the two brothers, and a whole host of other characters, to life are Michael Ajao and Valentine Olukoga playing brothers Ben and Obembe.
The performances of the two actors are amongst the greatest strengths of the work. As they play-act the experiences which led to their separation, the two performers cycle through a number of different scenes and characters, sparking off each other and bringing a tremendous amount of energy to their enactments. We see how the two brothers, along with the rest of their family, are drawn into misfortune and murder following a prophecy from a local madman.
It’s a story loaded with pathos, but the performers and director Jack McNamara manage to draw out moments of humour and humanity as they rapid fire through scenes involving a whole host of different characters. The speed of these switches is occasionally hard to follow, but the physicality of both actors’ performances means that you are never lost for long.
The staging of the work is another effective feature. The sparsely adorned stage divided by a sinuous row of metal poles suggests the river, division, and also the bars of a cage which fate and superstition has locked the boys in, both literally and metaphorically. It’s another strong element in a work which is brimming with confidence and narrative power, and one which deserves to have a wide audience at the Fringe this year.