“The Islanders”

at Underbelly, Cowgate, Saturday 3rd August 2013

*Written as a report for IdeasTap*

Amy and Eddie used to date, back in the late nineties. They had their ups and downs, but both vividly remember the one trip they had together, not to New York or France, but to the Isle of Wight. They’re not together any longer, but they decided to make a show about it all the same.

The set-up is simple, as Amy explains: “I’m going to tell you things, Eddie’s going to sing you songs and our friend Jim is going to play guitar”. For one hour, we hear of the couple’s memories of their time together, playing fast and loose with notions of memory, history and truth.

Amy gives us blow-by-blow accounts of their time together, remembering in minute detail things like the amount of dust on top of the toilet cistern in their bedsit. They are both young, naive and struggling to survive, but they have each other, and there’s something romantic about the squalor in which they live, allowing us to cast in a slightly different light the present state of austerity.  At one point, she tells us that they’d listen to loud, fast music together for hours: “Slow songs, sad songs, they weren’t for people like us”.

Then, in a moment, this is subverted as Eddie strolls to his microphone and begins to sing a slow song, in that Billy Bragg style of talking tunefully to a rhythm. Their past selves have changed, and now ten years on they think differently. His music acts as a soundtrack to the journey Amy is taking us on, and the freedom it allows him comes through in moments of ecstasy, such as when he skips with the lead.

Their two modes of storytelling are apt for a play which focusses on the difference in perception between men and women, especially when looking back at times like these. The show is broken up with “Postcards to Ourselves” and messages to family, allowing this gender divide to be all the more pronounced. After Amy advises herself to “Try not to worry”, Eddie exclaims “We got to go on all the rides!” and once she has announced they had to walk home as they missed the bus, he shouts joyfully “We got chips!”

The Islanders revels in its honesty, without taking it for granted; even the greying Kodak photos seem far more real than our twenty-first century digital images. All the way through, however, a description of ghosts takes us just out of reality to a world of fancy. The Isle of Wight is, apparently, one of the most haunted islands in the world, and the ghosts of their past are still present.

It’s a piece which, as heart, reminds us that escape – from whatever that may be – is possible. After all, as Amy says, if “Two twats who aren’t even able to get to work on time have managed to escape”, then all of us can.

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