With fine individual performances coupled with excellent ensemble work from the company, this play is devised and developed from a scant newspaper article reporting that the decomposing body of an adult had been discovered in a tent on a traffic island at Junction 1 of the M5 at West Bromwich.
This inauspicious ending of a life forms the beginnings of a full-length play which tells the story of a person - who no one had missed! - from her childhood to her old age, a life that top and tails the 20th century, a life and a century of dramatic social change.
The story is one that can be found many times over in the near-history of every British family. Our mothers, grandmothers and great grandmothers all went through the tragedies and traumas of the Second World War. And so here, our hearts go out to Mildred, movingly played by Nicky Fearn, whose sweetest memories were also her shortest-lived and who had a long, lonely life in which to reminisce on her bittersweet childhood and adolescence.
The rest of the cast total a mere four exceptionally talented actors Sarah Thom, Karina Garnett, Jason Webb and James Greaves who play, between them, some dozen other roles - plus a motorway full of manic motorists, every single one marked by idiosyncracies.
Toby Wilsher's direction and design ably carries us from dowdy sitting room to wartime foxholes, via a skiving roadworker's hut, a railway platform, a seaside resort with beach huts and Punch and Judy, a movie house queue and fairground stalls complete with dancing ducks. Costumes by Fiona Hankey play an important part in the piece and are always perfectly well chosen and suited to give the required impression.
Island is multi-time-levelled with links to happenings and mementoes becoming apparent only a few scenes later. This allows the audience to work out for itself the connections between the characters and their stories. A delightful air of discovery pervades, and the sound of several light bulbs going on all around the auditorium over people's heads is almost deafening as the story unfolds and the tiniest object takes on a gigantic significance.
One wonders if, to appreciate fully the subject matter, it's necessary to have been born somewhere in the middle of the 1900s and thus be able to reach both forwards and backwards in time without too much difficulty. A mostly student-aged theatre audience might find the subject matter inaccessible and this could explain the play's somewhat lukewarm reception.
- Annie Dawes (reviewed at Plymouth's Theatre Royal