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Islander - the musical: REVIEW

'Entertaining' climate change production

Just two actors with a mixing device and a loop pedal draw you into their world away from the “big land” in this new musical where myth and reality collide on a Scottish Island.

Before Islander begins, the announcement says please turn off your mobile phones as everything in the theatre is recorded during the show … intrigued?, I was, and this was certainly not like any musical I had ever seen in the past.

From the moment the show starts these two actors, plainly clothed on a minimal stage set, get you hooked with their haunting melodies, strong storytelling and ability to change from one interesting character to another. But that’s not all… as each and every noise from the ocean waves to the crackling phone line and Enya-esque vocals is created by the actors themselves who record, mix and layer the sounds on stage with the professionalism of sound engineers. That can’t be easy.

On the surface we see a young girl Eilidh, the last child left on the remote island of Kinnen, and a community under threat as people abandon it for the mainland.

Living away from her mother who is forced to work on the “big land” where there are hospitals and schools, and with only her prank-a-minute gran for company, Eilidh is sad and lonely and trying to grapple with her distance learning courses.

The show touches on climate change, the importance of community and sense of place but this thought-provoking tale goes deeper and starts to take on fairytale proportions as Eilidh finds she can communicate with whales and meets a young girl washed up on the shore who seems to hold magical qualities, with whom she forms a close bond.

There were two casts for the Plymouth performance, and I saw Lois Craig play Eilidh and heavily pregnant Breagha whilst Julia Murray played Arran, the mysterious girl from the isle no one has heard of where people are shepherds to whales, Jenny, the English marine biologist, Eilidh’s gran and mother.

Both showed great talent as actors as they darted into different characters and accents in a musical that keeps you entertained from beginning to end. It was just grannie’s broad Scottish accent that had me lost a couple of times!

Islander won the best new musical at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival back in 2019 and moved to the Southwark Playhouse in London where it was well received. Covid put the brakes on plans for a UK tour but fortunately it is now on the road and audiences have the privilege of seeing a great example of theatre pushing the boundaries.

Islander proves it’s not expensive stage sets, costumes and orchestras that put the sparkle into a great musical.

The show, conceived and directed by Amy Draper and based on a book by Stewart Melton, runs until Saturday 7 October.

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