‘’Never be an old journalist’’ says a foreign correspondent in Lydia Adetunji’s Fixer. Having worked as a journalist for a number of years, Adetunji recently followed her own advice and turned her attention to the stage; her debut work is an exquisitely crafted play that succeeds in scrutinising a host of contemporary issues without ever seeming dense or worthy, remaining utterly gripping throughout.
A multinational conglomerate, sinisterly referred to throughout the play as ‘The Consortium’, are suffering a wave of attacks upon their oil pipeline in Northern Nigeria, by a group of militant rebels named ‘The Boys’. The incidents are beginning to attract negative media attention, and The Consortium, in an effort to extinguish the diplomatic flames, draft in the career-driven PR consultant Sara (Jennifer Jackson), and journalist-turned-corporate spokesman Jerome (Robert Bowman).
The Consortium’s new recruits have to contend with two wily Western journalists: young hack Laurence, (Damola Adelaja), and seasoned professional Dave (Alex Barclay). Both are dying for the big scoop, and more than willing to engage in some chequebook journalism to secure an interview with The Boys themselves. As they become ever more desperate to prove their mettle to their editors back home, Laurence’s idealism and Dave’s professional code begin to erode, exposing their lack of regard for the consequences of their métier.
Uniting all these individuals is the eponymous fixer, Chuks, played with admirable nuance by Richard Pepple. A loveable, but seemingly unscrupulous small-time criminal, Chucks is the go-to man for black-market goods and illicit dealings. He is desperately trying to get out of the game and run a quiet bar, but he is also the one person with knowledge of the whereabouts of The Boys, and thus hot property to both the journalists and PR team alike. Chuks sees no reason not to capitalise on those willing to exploit him, but it soon becomes clear that he may be the only one with an ounce of moral conviction.
Ostensibly a drama grappling with the geopolitical issues of the Niger Delta, Fixer morphs into a complex character piece. As the tension heightens, we are exposed to the inner turmoil of each individual, as they struggle to define their moral limits whilst securing their respective objectives. The characters’ motives become clearer too: Dave, it seems, will do anything to avoid going back to a dull British seaside town, whilst Chuks has a more noble reason for his cupidity than originally imagined. Disappointingly, Sara, the only female role, is rather one-dimensional, but Jennifer Jackson’s portrayal of the obnoxious image consultant rings very true indeed.
The production design is refreshingly minimalist: the set consists of a bleak camouflage coloured backdrop, with the only props being a row of airline seats and a dusty crate of Guinness. The entire cast remain on stage for the duration of the play, cowering in unlit recesses, in a mildly threatening manner. Occasionally, they charge frenetically around the edges, with intimidating effect.
For a play that lasts a mere ninety minutes, Fixer packs a hefty punch. It has much to say about the exploitation of Northern Africa by Western society and the brazen profiteering of global corporations, but also delves into less explored territory, such as the ethicality of journalistic methods, and the commodification of a human life. Adetunji’s personal experience of both the region (she grew up in Nigeria) and journalism serve her well; the terse dialogue is always convincing and the characters refreshingly un-idealised.