Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Vibrant Play on Teenage Life

Island Town

Theatr Clwyd & Paines Plough , Roundabout @ Summerhall, Edinburgh , August-10-18
Island Town by Theatr Clwyd & Paines Plough Katherine Pearce made an impressive first appearance on this site as the eponymous lead in Simon Stephens' “Harper Regan”. In Simon Longman’s propulsive three-hander her character is a third the age of Stephens' journeying hero. Her Kate is the fulcrum that carries the centre of this play of teenagers, which becomes a coming-of-age piece.

Simon Longman's “White Sky” was performed at RWCMD in 2017 as part of the Cardiff-Gate collaborations. His “Gundog”, directed by Vicky Featherstone, won him a George Devine award for Most Promising Playwright. This experience, including a residency with Pentabus, shows. Teenagers in the life are glued to screens, in deed and in word. But art is not life transcribed and screens deaden stage action. In its place he provides action. “Island Town” is propelled by quicksilver speech and tremendous acting.

Jack Wilkinson's Pete is an aspirant parent albeit perpetual virgin. Longman grabs the attention early with a tale of a drunken encounter with a nan. Charlotte O'Leary's Sam has the advantage of a small amount of money, courtesy of a job in a newsagent. Otherwise, the lives of these recent school-leavers are lifted by weed and cheap cider. On occasion they venture to stealing pain-killers prescribed for an ailing parent. Pete plays more dangerously with an attempt to get ketamine from his regular dealer.

The drama between the three, who are friends, is not intense, although the relationships end in a way that Longman has skillfully pre-set. His writing is threaded with detail, of siblings and parents, and incidents to seize the attention. A goldfish is subject to a cremation with a disastrous excess of petrol. The first baby to enter the lives of teenagers is a shock. Pete believes that a hard enough bang to the back of a head can send an eye out. A pack of supermarket sausages is deployed as a prelude to courtship. A neighbour runs a thriving business breeding and selling hamsters out of a front room.

The dramatic impulse is that of “the Three Sisters”, the urge to escape to a bigger and a better place. The true quality of the writing is the ability to craft articulacy of meaning and symbol into vernacular speech. The ring road ever looms as a barrier to fulfilment elsewhere.

But the play's politics are lightly done. A mention is made of a cut to a care budget. The title “Island Town” is carefully chosen. A part of the island metaphor is to depict how remote from the mainland of full adulthood are the lives of new and small-qualified school-leavers. Careers services and the like do not impinge on the humour, vitality and resilience of yet-to-be-purposed lives. Their very absence is a political point. All societies construct, in their own manner, a route from to childhood to a meaning-embued maturity. Here not, at least for those with small advantage. The government's well-intended revamp of the apprenticeship scheme is in tatters. Investment bankers are dipping into the levy to do MBA's. The opposition has not pronounced anything interesting to young people in an aeon.

All of which is far from the spirit and life of “Island Town.” There is a little too much rumbling on the sound-track. Great actors can be relied on to let their voices do it all. Director Stef O’Driscoll has elicited tremendous felt and energised performances from her trio of actors.

“Island Town” continues until 26 August and tours England 6th September to 21st

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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