Writer: Athol Fugard
Director: Jake Murray
For their latest offering Elysium Theatre Company present the classic Athol Fugard playThe Island.Simply staged, this one-act two-hander is played out this evening in the Godber Studio as part of its current Northern tour. As an award-winning independent theatre company, Elysium have already made a name for themselves with shows like Miss JulieandA Doll’s House making waves – this play adding another feather to their cap.
Trying to get through the mundane brutality of everyday prisoner life, two African offenders attempt to stage a production of the Greek play Antigone. Although we do not hear of their crimes, we get a sense of the trauma and injustice they are facing in their desolate and perilous prison cell.
The themes of this play centre around oppression and imprisonment. It is, at times, stark and heavy-hitting as it mirrors the incarceration of Nelson Mandela who also staged a production of Antigone when he was locked up in Robben Island. Theatre helps pass the time. It helps them heal and gives them a sense of purpose.
Without taking anything away from Fugard’s brilliant writing, this uneven retelling of another classic story of hope and humility feels somewhat bland with no real sense of pathos and satirical play. From a directorial point of view, Jake Murray shows some commitment to that art form but what is lost is the sense of morality, humanity, freedom and friendship. Both actors (Ewen Cummins and Daniel Poyse) are skilled enough in bringing just the right amount of energy to the roles of John and Winston and the two work incredibly hard to bring Fugard’s accomplished play to life. Their performances are endearing with pockets of poignancy and efficiency.
This story has relevance. It is an affecting and important play; piteous and proper. One can only conclude that this essential drama is worth revisiting as the piece does show promise.
Reviewed on 4th March 2023.