Venue: New Century House (Pioneer Stage) Where: Manchester
The weaknesses of Islanders are apparent from the opening. Alone on one of the isolated Farne Islands Peter (Mark Frampton) sings tunelessly along to his guitar and barks out his opinions on the human race, global warning and other contentious topics. Misanthropes have been used in the theatre before but usually as a means of ironic comparison to demonstrate the unreasonable behaviour of other characters. That would not work in Islanders as the character of Peter is genuinely irritating
As tends to be the case the Island draws in another troubled soul, Nicola (Katy Slater) to whom Peter becomes attracted. They are joined from time to time by supervisor Ellen (Claire Dean) who, as well as shielding Peter from the consequences of his actions, is Peter’s former lover.
Writer Dick Curran uses the play to explore the healing of people damaged by past events. This is far from a new topic and is not handled particularly well. Peter is annoying as much as damaged. His proposed solutions to global environmental problems (including culling the human race) are too extreme and delivered with such a lack of irony that it is impossible to take them seriously.
Rather than savouring the beauty of the island Peter just seems to want to use it as a location where he can selfishly isolate himself from other people. The trauma that drove Peter to this state is actually quite mild and the examples of his eventual reformation do not convince. Frampton does well in displaying the obstinacy of the character but the limitations of the script hinder his efforts to make Peter attractive.
Slater gives Nicola a bright exterior but shows no hint of her underlying trauma until required to do so by the script. Until that point she has seemed no more than the mature student she claimed to be. Dean does well in conveying the ongoing frustration and affection of Ellen but the part is under-written and she does not have much with which to work. Director Clare Howdon keeps the humour flowing with nice touches of slapstick that enliven the evening .
There is nothing actually wrong with Islanders but it is hard to avoid the conclusion that we have seen similar work done better in the past.