This Island's Mine, King's Head, Islington
PUBLISHED: 10:33 20 May 2019
© Mark Douet
Thirty years on, Philip Osment's witty, lyrical coming of age tale in the age of Aids and Section 28 stands the test of time
It's 30 years since Gay Sweatshop first performed Philip Osment's warm-hearted This Island's mine; a witty, tender coming of age tale.
There's purpose in revisiting the issues given how much the world has changed since the early days of Aids and the implementation of Section 28.
Directed by Philip Wilson, the production is a little hazy about its period setting, but myriad storylines of chaotic lives are compressed into a dizzyingly compact odyssey that conjures up a heady hit of London life.
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Seventeen-year old schoolboy Luke runs away to London to escape the homophobic taunts and headlines in his small-town community. He turns up at estranged uncle Martin's.
Last spotted by his family at a gay rights rally, Martin is now lodging with retired piano teacher Miss Rosenblum; a lonely Jewish refugee who finds solace chatting to her willful cat as well as the ghost of her deceased employer, an aristocratic Russian émigré.
Lives collide further when local waiter Mark goes on a bender after losing his job and hooks up with Luke in a nightclub. Meanwhile Mark's actor boyfriend Selwyn becomes the target of a racist police confrontation outside Miss Rosenblum's house. If you find stories of urban coincidence comforting, and if you like your theatre brimming with devices - direct narration, breaking of the fourth wall - plus are partial to a bit of magic-realism courtesy of a mouthy ghost [a standout Rachel Summers], the tone and wit will be right up your alley - or densely populated London street.
It's a challenging medley but the talented cast does it justice.
Wilson makes good use of a minimal set - a painted sky punctuated by doors. The vertical staging of a double bed displaying a bickering couple works especially well. Period details could be bolder: teasing flashes of bands like Bronski Beat and Frankie Goes to Hollywood plus tokenized costumes [lesbians in dungarees, plenty of stone washed jeans] give some period flavour. Parallels with Shakespeare's The Tempest aren't smoothly handled, and a storyline about contaminated blood being misleadingly sold should feel more relevant. Still, there's no escaping the understated lyricism of writing that deserves to be better known.