It’s easy to look back on your adolescent years with either a fuzzy warm ‘wonder years’ style nostalgic gaze or alternatively to squirm at the memory of the sheer awkwardness of it all. Amy Mason’s The Islanders manages to poignantly combine both perspectives in a piece which feels both personal but also entirely universal. Through simple story-telling, music, slides and film Amy reflects on her holiday to the Isle of Wight with her then boyfriend Eddie Argos (now of the band Art Brut). On the surface this is a simple recollection of a particular time in Mason’s life but for me it ends up being about so much more.
The show recounts Amy’s courtship with Eddie, from the initial awkward encounter at an indie disco through to the big step of moving in together. Her narrative mainly focuses on the first holiday the couple took together on the Isle of Wight, which both cemented and tested their relationship. The experience showed that these kinds of episodes in adolescence teach you as much about yourself as it does about the other person. There is always a danger of an autobiographical show like this veering towards self-indulgence or slipping into ‘I love the 90s’ style culturally nostalgic reference points to get easy laughs but instead the production is simply about two people and how the past shaped them into the people they now are.
On stage with Amy is her former teenage beau Eddie, who plays songs dealing with their time together – aided by the brilliant Jim Moray on guitar - which matches the warmth and humour of Mason’s storytelling. Eddie’s presence also provides a counter-balance to Amy’s memories of the time; she recalls their dirty cramped flat, a diet of orange food (tomato soup, baked beans) and terrified tears on a rollercoaster ride; whereas Eddie’s memories of the time are viewed through a much sunnier filter. Watching the adult versions of themselves on stage also adds an extra poignancy to the night and is a reminder that the awkward adolescent self still lurks somewhere inside of all of us. This idea is reinforced by the couple reading out postcards from their present selves to the teenage Eddie and Amy but its clear their younger selves would probably have taken little heed of this adult advice.
The trip to the Isle of Wight provides a beautiful metaphor of those initial steps into the adult world where the feelings of both liberation and trepidation become intertwined and how the feeling of wanting to fit in whilst feeling like an outsider are always in constant conflict. There are some lovely evocative reminiscences, particularly the couple’s sleepless night in a ‘haunted’ guest house and what Eddie labels ‘B & B Anxiety’ in one of the songs of the night.
The slightly rough and ready feel of the show actually adds to the piece – giving it a DIY style indie charm. This is a show which manages to convey an everyday but engaging story whilst at the same time painting a much bigger picture of what it was to have been young and how the memories of our past can shape and reflect who we are now.