If you walk around the edge of an island, eventually you’ll end up exactly where you started – no change, no movement, just an endless cycle. The ring is inescapable. Life for young people, according to playwright Simon Longman, can sometimes feel exactly the same – you’re marooned.
Longman caked the Royal Court with mud in his award-winning Gundog earlier this year, but the sparsely staged Roundabout venue at Summerhall is the perfect fit for new play Island Town, with the spherical stage hemmed in by an audience on all sides. Like zoo specimens, we watch as adolescents flit their lives away on stage.
It’s a mournful piece, capable of flashes of sublime humour, that traces the lives of three kids – Kate, Sam and Pete. Kate wants to escape, flee the city and find life further away, while Pete wants to be a dad, he yearns for it. He wants to murder his brother and takes his baby. He craves the connection.
What Longman does so well in Island Town is capture an underlying, caustic sense of rage slowly bubbling under each character, under a generation. Kate, shackled by the need to tend to an ill father, Sarah trying to avoid two violent parents, and Pete’s frustration with a lack of outlet, an inability to settle, all resonate clearly. Rage manifests itself in so many intense, varied ways – an intense desire to hurt, drink, burn, smash, scream. Its numerous shades are on full display across the show.
Director Stef O’Driscoll directs the play briskly, characters orbit one another until reaching a somewhat expected conclusion. It’s an intensely unoptimistic, Groundhog Day-esque revelation – a staid reflection of a generation forever forsaken to exist in some purgatorial loop. Stage Award winner Katherine Pearce stands out – argumentative but never overbearing, tragic but never a victim.
Which means the show persistently exists on a knife-edge – on one hand being a magical, wondrous lyrical concoction, while also being a brutal reflection of contemporary life. A Fringe hit with every sign pointing to a writer only truly getting started. Longman is a name to keep an eye out for.
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