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Islands, a play

20 January 2015 / Daniel Selwood
Issue: 4486 / Categories: Reviews

By Caroline Horton; Bush Theatre, Shepherd’s Bush, until 21 February

Dear multinationals and celebrities, please, please, please give all your money to HMRC.

If you don’t, Caroline Horton might write another duffer like Islands.

It’s an absurdist play about tax havens that could be staged at HQs and agents’ offices around the UK as an anti-avoidance tool way more effective than the GAAR: “Hand over the dosh, or we’ll make you sit through it again.” For the love of Hodge, anything but that!

(Never mind tax-raising measures; Islands would be a useful ‘enhanced interrogation technique’ for the CIA, or even rich, pungent slurry for the makers of reconstituted chicken pieces.)

It opens with a character called Mary (played by Horton). Flashing papier-mâché boobs and affecting a cartoonish Lancastrian accent, she gives an account of narcissistic teenage indulgence from which the rest of the production takes its steer. Islands is a puerile, joyless view of offshore finance that misleadingly styles itself as “ink-black comedy”.

The story: a small group of “androgynous and terrible-looking” clowns (in reality, goonish drag acts likely to offend sections of the LGBT community) establish an island apart from the rest of the planet, which they rename S***world. Because that’s the level of satire. Cherries are currency. Because that’s the level of satire. And the voices of politicians – Cameron and Obama among them – emanate from a broken toilet. Because that’s the level of satire.

The clowns simulate sex acts and make stale observations about the evils of capitalism. The dialogue is splattered with sub-Nadsat phrases and not-shocking references to bodily functions. Some speeches sound like they were copied from old Christian Aid reports.

The fourth wall is broken pantomime style, big businesses are harangued for wanting to make profit, the bull market is equated with a bull fight (because that’s...), the world’s economy goes belly up, someone bellows at length about the death of humanity and justice, the stage fades to black, and the audience goes home none the wiser, the author having conflated avoidance and evasion and offered no solution to the grotesque inequity they help to create in global wealth distribution.

Nothing interesting or insightful happens. Swearing is constant but never exciting.  

The staging is momentarily diverting, fashioning the island from looks like the toddlers’ pool of a long-abandoned lido. It’s filthy and strewn with predictable garbage – dirty mattress, splintered pallet – and we know we’re on an island because, hey, calypso music is playing.

Islands’ lack of audio-visual subtlety is echoed in the conspicuousness of its influences: Beckett, the avant garde performances of Lee Bowery, 1960s kitchen sink drama, Jacques Lecoq's buffoonery, and, one must assume, semi-coherent entries from the playwright’s own teenage diaries. 

The other major force behind the writing is guidance from the Tax Justice Network, which goes a long way to explain the lack of a nuanced or thoughtful message among the poo jokes.

Greed stinks, yes, but so does Islands.

Issue: 4486 / Categories: Reviews
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