Thirty years ago, the country was at the mercy of a heartless Tory government, gripped by the AIDS epidemic and torn over the introduction of Section 28, a law which banned positive representations of homosexuality. It’s here in 1988 that This Island’s Mine was written, first performed by The Gay Sweatshop, and is set. Ardent Theatre are behind this revival, directed by Philip Wilson and playing at the Kings Head.
We meet a number of individual characters who all have their own stories to tell, the seventeen-year-old boy who runs away from home, the chef who is sacked when he reveals he has an actor boyfriend, the mother balancing looking after her son and containing the spirit of her girlfriend. These are just a handful of the varied characters who occupy Philip Osment’s rich tapestry of gay life, which is mostly told in third person narration.
All of these separate stories intertwine and cross over, eventually bringing all the characters together in one story arch. It’s a masterpiece of writing actually, as the audience is swept up in the frenetic movement from scene to scene, many actually leaning forward in their seats to drink in these bite-size pieces of ordinary lives in extraordinary times.
This Island’s Mine is certainly fast paced, with all of the cast playing additional characters on top of their own primary role. You get to the point where you don’t even notice as an actor walks off one side of the stage only to reappear at the other side seconds later with different clothes, hair and accent. Director Philip Wilson has the whole production choreographed to a tee making each movement seamless.
If the title wasn’t enough of a clue, there’s a close link to Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Not only is one of the characters cast as Caliban (Corey Montague-Sholay’s Selwyn), both plays share some central themes; love, betrayal and family most notably.
Connor Bannister wonderfully captures the sense of fear which grips the teenage Luke, terrified of telling his parents that he’s gay, only then to feel revitalised when he runs away to London and his Uncle Martin. Theo Fraser Steele, as Martin, captures many of the laughs with his witty asides, but his character is also nuanced, exploring gay life after thirty-five. Tom Ross-Williams and Rachel Summers also stand out amongst this talented cast
Why it has taken so long for This Island’s Mine to be revived is a mystery, because this mini gay odyssey perfectly defines a moment in time, and demonstrates how much the world has changed in the last thirty years, but it also highlights where it has stood still. Philip Osment’s hugely compelling writing paired with Philip Wilson’s flawless direction makes this a defining portrayal of gay life, which is fast becoming gay history.