Islands: Way off course

Publicity image for Islands - an idyllic image looking seawre
An idyllic island (N.B. Island in play may vary from island depicted)

Caroline Horton’s Islands could be an insightful look into the world of tax havens. But the preview at Live Theatre is going in the wrong direction.

It was going to be a tough task for Caroline Horton. She’s made her name with two excellent fringe plays (You’re Not Like the Other Girls Chrissy and Mess), both based on personal experience, but where do you go from there? Never wishing to take an easy path, her first major project not based on her own life is Islands, where the islands in question are the ones which are favoured by tax dodgers. They even had someone from the Tax Justice campaign giving advice on this issue. (Must say, I’m a little sceptical about Tax Justice – they tend to make wildly optimistic claims about the benefits of clamping down on tax havens, such as the River Tyne flowing with chocolate milk – but they’ve certainly done their research.)

Before going any further with this review, I must point out that the two-day run at Live was a preview and not a finished product. To give you an idea of how much the play is changing, it’s grown from one hour advertised in the programme to nearly two. It could change again before the first proper performance at the Bush Theatre next year. I don’t normally review previews, preferring instead to wait for finished products, but with Horton being the solo performer I have the most respect for I’m making an exception. I was hoping to see a promising product and just give a few pointers of how to make things better, but what I saw instead is seriously headed in the wrong direction. I even noticed people leave between the first and second half. That’s never a good sign.

I’ll get straight to the point: this play fails the “What’s going on?” test. They didn’t, thank goodness, make the worst mistake of all and do a tedious opinion play. (“But Mr. Goodwin, if you set up this offshore account, it will cause thousands of Bratislakislavian orphan kittens to starve to death.” “I know. Bwuhahahahahahahaha!”) But the mistake they’ve made is the next worst thing: a story so abstract, it’s impossible to tell what it’s supposed to be about. Now, there is a niche for this kind of theatre, and normally I’d leave it at that. But surely the purpose of the play is to raise awareness about an important global issue to as wide an audience as possible. And as it stands, I can’t work out what the play was supposed to say about tax dodging other than it’s bad.

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