In 1988 Margaret Thatcher introduced new legislation, banning the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities and schools. Amidst the fall-out Philip Osment’s ‘This Island’s Mine’ uttered a resounding protest cry. Anyone with doubts over whether the play is still relevant in today’s Britain, need only look to the recent uproar caused by the announcement that LGBT issues will soon be included in school sex education. It is clear there remains the same fear that exposure to and legitimacy of, homosexuality, might act as a catalyst for widespread ‘gayness’ among our nation’s children. An idea which to some may seem absurd but to others is a genuine concern, and a prevalent one at that.
If we throw into the mix the political divisions created by Brexit and immigration, it feels more important than ever for art and theatre not just to respond with angry, political rhetoric, but also to yield up more subtle and sensitive offerings. Philip Wilson’s revival does just this, presenting a sensible, warm and humane voice that cuts across the divides of race, nationality, gender and sexual orientation. This is evidenced demonstrably by the actors transitioning between multiple roles, on occasion swapping gender or skin colour; a device that in less delicate hands could be distracting, but which instead enriches the play’s message of inclusivity.
If criticism can be levelled it is that the script to a modern audience at times feels staid and despite some excellent acting, notably Rachel Summers, Connor Bannister and a show stealing Theo Fraser-Steele, it also needs more rehearsal. An issue that is highlighted by the intense, intimate nature of the theatre but which no doubt will improve over the course of the run.
The action is gentle but there is an intelligent and touching depth to the play, underscored by the references to Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’, which prompts deeper contemplation on the themes of colonialism, nationalism and oppression. The refrain ‘This Island’s Mine‘ is removed from the mouths of those we so frequently hear it in and placed in those of the immigrants, the outsiders, the outcasts. This island is all of ours it shouts. And after it finishes, for a few moments it follows you out on to a multicultural street in Islington, with a feeling of optimism and unity, thinking that, just maybe, things will get better.
Photo by Mark Douet