Islander The Musical

Book by Stewart Melton, music and lyrics by Finn Anderson
Theatre Royal Plymouth
The Drum, Theatre Royal Plymouth

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Islander the Musical

Pared down but highly technical, simple and complex, earthy and mystical: such is the imaginative two-hander conceived and directed by Amy Draper with a book by Stewart Melton.

Following an award-winning season at the Edinburgh Festival and a run in New York, Islander returns in this new co-production with Theatre Royal Plymouth before commencing a North American tour.

The premise is simple: 15-year-old Eilidh (Sylvie Stenson) is the last child on a remote Scottish island where the population has dwindled to just 100 and the infrastructure is compromised with no school, no doctor and dwindling government funding or interest. The Big Land some miles across the sea beckons. Even Eilidh’s teacher mother has had to leave to find work, severely compromising their relationship.

As the Islanders wrestle with their future—to cross the sea and resettle or stay where tractors are double-parked and farming is in the DNA—the mysterious Arran (Stephanie Macgaraidh) is washed up on the shore and a friendship is forged over a beached whale calf.

Connections and the meaning of home are explored, fact and fiction become blurred and Jane, the whale expert, documents the decline, advocates for the environment and envies the islanders’ ties to the land.

The two young actors play 17 or so roles each, populating the stage with Islanders debating the issues facing remote Killan and, with the aid of two microphones and a loop machine, provide all the sound effects—sea, wind, gulls and whale song—as well as Finn Anderson’s songs. Stenson and Macgaraidh’s voices harmonise and blend beautifully whether a cappella, pop or folk.

Simon Wilkinson’s lighting design enhances Emma Bailey’s (SIX) sparse set, which is no more than an undulating elliptical structure which becomes a windswept beach, forum for lively discussion about the islanders’ future (and garden gnomes), radio station (a clever device to move the story along) and home where gran plays practical jokes and practises dying.

Although interesting and somewhat charming despite being a tad long, unfortunately the duo hefting the kit around the stage broke the spell here and there.

Reviewer: Karen Bussell

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