REVIEW: This Island’s Mine, Roustabout Theatre (Pound Arts, Corsham)

We’ve been big fans of Roustabout Theatre since we caught the recording of their hit show Luna way back at the start of the pandemic. Since then we’ve seen all their online offerings and were excited to hear that they were back out and about this Autumn with a tour of their new play,This Island’s Mine. We were lucky enough be invited along to review the show, so headed on off on a half term road trip to catch it in Corsham.

Aimed at ages 7+ This Island’s Mine is set in the world of Shakespeare’s The Tempest but does not require familiarity with the play itself. (Full disclosure – before Wednesday we knew nothing about The Tempest beyond a sneaky suspicion that it probably involved a pretty big storm at sea!) Written and directed by Toby Hulse, it was developed in early 2020 with 195 primary and secondary students and is directly influenced by their thoughts and opinions on sensitive issues of colonialism, migration and national identity. After a stormy 18 months for theatre, this provocative new play is finally sailing into schools and arts centres in and around the South West. And it may be Roustabout’s best one yet!

This Island’s Mine focuses on the three inhabitants of an island, each of whom has very different ideas about who the island belongs to and how it should be used. Caliban has been on the island all his life, living off the land. He tends to the mango trees and knows exactly what needs doing when, to ensure the island will provide for him. If it’s anybody’s island, surely it must be Caliban’s? Stephano, who has just turned up, has other ideas. He wants to bring the benefits of Western civilisation to this little slice of paradise. He’s brighter and better than Caliban so clearly he has the best claim to be King. And Stephano knows just what the island needs. This place is almost perfect….if only it were exactly like Italy. Ariel has different ideas again. She’s always been there and always will be, long after Stephano and Caliban have gone. Life is transient so how can a place belong to people? And what right do they have to interfere with it?

Ariel was always here. Caliban was born here. And Stephano has just arrived. They all claim ‘this island’s mine’. But do any of them have that right? And what happens if they can’t agree?  

It’s a fantastic, thought-provoking play which raises so many different issues that could provide conversation starters after the show. And, indeed, beforehand: while the audience waits for the show to begin, they listen to recordings of individuals talking about their ideas of “home” and where they are “from”. A topic that will resonate with so many people, this is a particularly good one for our family. Like many Londoners, we’re not originally from this city that we now call home. The munchkins are also adopted from outside London, so it was especially interesting to explore their ideas of where they are from. (As a nerdy property lawyer, Mummy particularly enjoyed thinking of these issues in the context of tax law domicile, as well as deliberating whether legal ownership is indeed ultimately premised on the concept of “finders keepers”!)

Whether you choose to actively teach children about the history of colonialism, or keep things conceptual, there are so many issues to explore in this show, from being scared of someone because they are different to thinking someone is stupid because they haven’t been taught the same things as you. Stephano giving Caliban (who has never had any need to learn to read or write) what he thinks is an “easy” test is an absolutely brilliant way of demonstrating this point. There is also an especially excellent song about natural abilities which features a fish, bird and human competing in flying and swimming tasks. Not only does the song provide an opportunity to discuss difference and fairness but it’s also very funny! And that’s the real strength of this production. It’s all very well wanting a play to get children thinking but it also needs to be entertaining in order to grab and retain the attention of this most demanding of audiences. This Island’s Mine certainly fits the bill. It’s entertaining and accessible, and performed brilliantly by the engaging trio of Robin Hemmings (Stephano), Kesty Morrison (Ariel) and Eleanor Pead (who makes a wonderfully obnoxious Stephano).

The resolution of the show is open-ended, leaving the audience with questions to ponder before being invited to write down their ideas and hang them on a tree afterwards. Quaver was very keen to do this, unilaterally offering the opinion that the show was good for teaching children as well as concluding that the island belonged to the Earth. Crotchet, who likes everything to be concrete, struggled with the idea of offering her own opinion rather than there being a right answer. But that’s exactly what makes this such a good piece of theatre for children, reassuring them that it is ok to voice their own opinions and encouraging them to engage critically with art and the world around them. We thought it was brilliant and would thoroughly recommend it to anyone who can make the remaining tour dates in Bristol and Wales.

This Island’s Mine played at Pound Arts on Wednesday 27 October 2021. We received complimentary tickets in return for a review.

Image credit: Craig Fuller