On a prison island, two lifers pointlessly shovel sand from one place to another and back again. The two men, cell-mates Winston (Jimmy Akingbola) and John (Daniel Poyser) seem resigned to a life of hard labour and deprivation, concentrating on survival in the harsh environment.
As they prepare to perform the final confrontation scene from Sophocles' Antigone for the other prisoners, the injustice in the play within a play impacts on the two men as they see their own situation reflected in the ancient Greek tragedy. Then John receives news that may destroy their friendship.
Alex Brown's bold production of The Island, created by Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona from true stories from South Africa's Robben Island, is a stark reminder of the terrible injustices suffered during the apartheid era, and which still exist in parts of today's world. Akingbola and Poyser are exceptional as the two prisoners, determined not to be broken by the prison system while reacting to the klaxons and demands of the unseen warder.
It's a physical piece but is not without its quiet or humorous moments, all of which Akingbola and Poyser play to great effect. There's a particularly poignant scene, brilliantly pulled off by Poyser, when John pretends to chat on a make-believe phone about everyday life, dragging into the cell a reminder of the normality the prisoners have lost.
Holly Pigott's set is simple, just a platform with a bucket, two blankets, a few props. And surrounded by sand to emphasise the backbreaking work the prisoners are forced to carry out on the beach. In the background, George Dennis provides sounds of the sea, the freedom of the seagulls and the waves contrasting with the men's incarceration - a contrast that was probably not lost on Nelson Mandela during his imprisonment.
The Island has seen several revivals in its 40 years. The Young Vic's production does it proud and demonstrates that Alex Brown is a worthy winner of the JMK Award 2013.