Mini-Review – Islands – Bush Theatre

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If you’re a little bit into this theater thing, you’re probably aware of the existence of plays which use (occasionally heavy handed) metaphors to make a wider point about the world around us. A good example of this is Ionesco’s Rhinoceros. It’s a play about the rise of fascism, but it uses the metaphor of people turning into rhinoceri to show the changes caused in the brain; but the whole thing is played pretty straight. We, the audience, never are TOLD what we are watching is not, well, a strange group metamorphosis. This “theater of the absurd” school to me seems more focused on being funny and goofy (I’m expecting the same at Happy Days tonight) rather than the more interesting “calling truth to power,” a thing I think theater is really uniquely qualified to do: because of its quick turnaround time, theater can publicly mock the powers that be much more quickly than a painter or a novelist. We’re certainly in a time when there’s a lot going on that needs to be called out, but instead of getting The Crucible we’re getting drippy crap like 2071 and Hope (and some good shows like God Bless the Child and Great Britain).

But, really, I think the degree of outrage about the corrupt underpinnings of our society has not been fanned nearly high enough by the theater that is currently being produced: and in this vacuum of politically relevant, highly charged theatrical events has been sucked Islands, a play that fully embraces the unreality of the absurdist theater movement but, rather than looking safely backwards, contorts itself madly at something happening right now that we’ve just come to accept as the way things are: offshore tax havens. Now, unless you’re an investor trying to shelter your money, you would probably not think about this for more than a minute a month, and only if some big corporation has gone up against the legislature and been shamed for “not paying their fair share of taxes.” I mean, these days, the conversation is so weakened, the outrage has become so feeble, that there are terms for “egregiously” avoiding and, presumably, normal levels of tax avoidance. Setting up an LLC to avoid tax on working for yourself, well, everyone does it: but pretending your company is based in Luxembourg so you can avoid paying VAT …. well, that’s egregious. And yet, as we know, completely and utterly legal. And while the UK government is working it’s hardest to squeeze an extra £20 a month out of people living on benefits, I haven’t heard sweet jack about any efforts to get Amazon, Starbucks, and Apple to pay their fair share of UK taxes – not a word. Nope, it’s make unemployed 20 year olds work full time for a fifth of the minimum wage and push apprenticeship programs that have wages so startlingly low only people whose parents are paying their rent can possibly afford to take one.

Islands jams all of this hypocrisy and bullshit into one glitter-filled clown car packed full of blood, shit and cherries, whipping off the doors to show us, laughingly (as if how could we ever think this is actually okay? we’re actually outraged, right?), via powerful, committed performances, that we have parallel worlds existing nearly close enough to touch, but the people who have the power to cut off the rich islands scudding overhead have somehow bought into the idea that it’s okay for them to be there. It’s not. We should be mad. We should be screaming. We should be setting their homes on fire. But we don’t. And really, if that’s the case, isn’t the joke on us?

(This review is for a performancet hat took place on Tuesday, February 17, 2014. It closes February 21.)

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