IN BRIEF Ambitious production of epic multi-strand drama whose breadth restricts its depth, but maximised by hard-working cast and direction.
First things first – it’s refreshing to see a play about gay people that includes both men and women. And how interesting that to find this mix we have to thank this play from 1988, now receiving a loving revival (its first ever) from Ardent Theatre and director/designer Philip Wilson.
There is a lot packed into its 105 mins running time (straight through). Teenage Luke runs away from his family to stay with his gay uncle Martin; a lesbian couple have trouble with their young son and jealousy; an actor and chef experience turbulence in their relationship. All face pressure of prejudice upon them involving sexuality/ race/ sex. Meanwhile, Martin’s old landlady reflects on her life and the prejudice she has seen, while caring for her elderly cat.
The play follows them all episodically as their stories intertwine and create a fast-paced narrative that uncovers many unexpected links. There is a lot within its pages- humour, tenderness, longing, sadness, awakenings, which contribute to a well-told story threaded through with humanity.
However, the play’s inclusivity in terms of characters and storylines comes at the cost of depth. This limits the audience’s connections with the characters, which is a pity as when the writing slows down and gives itself room to breathe, it is a delight to listen to Osment’s lyrical language, and as such these moments catch you by surprise and cause a reassessment of the play.
A lot of Osment’s script involves the characters breaking the fourth wall, explaining the narrative, locations, feelings and situations. This moving in and out of character, combined with the fact that the actors double -or mostly triple -up on roles played, mean that the play can feel very fragmented. This can create distance for an audience, however I must say that the audience I was with were concentrating from start to finish, which is a tribute to director Wilson’s carefully thought out approach and the energy of the cast.
What marks out this production is the clarity with which the director has presented the many strands of story in what could otherwise have felt like a very tangled text. The production is also ambitious technically, with an attractive, simple yet flexible set design which works well within the many confines of the Kings Head Theatre. Rachel E Cleary’s sophisticated lighting design works stylishly, and the evocative soundscape by Dinah Mullen brings a welcome texture to the variety of environments created.
Pleasingly cyclic, the play ends as it starts, with teenage Luke on his home ground, just a little older, a bit wiser and a little more hopeful. THIS ISLAND’S MINE is an endearing tapestry of outsider stories, effectively woven by director Wilson and enacted by a tight ensemble cast that work hard (ditto the props and costume teams) to bring the multitude of characters to distinctive life. And as a reminder of how things have changed- or haven’t- this is a valuable wake-up call that we still have to fight those old battles every day.
THIS ISLAND’S MINE runs at the Kings’s Head Theatre, London, until June 8th. Details and tickets here