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Review of Islands at the Bush Theatre London

Caroline Horton in Islands.
Caroline Horton in Islands.
Photographer Edmund Collier.

A derelict redundant pool is dotted with a carpet, flowerpots, crates and dangling disco balls as designed by Oliver Townsend. Here in Shitworld Island, there’s a little grotesque goddess called Mary (Caroline Horton) who walks around with a bucket of cherries in her arms. There she and her other gods Agent (John Biddle) and Swill (Seiriol Davies) enjoy the benefits of being away from that boring place that you and I reside in – that place ‘down there’ where we pay huge taxes and the world is ‘shittier’ than theirs (excuse the pun.)

Islands, a play showing at the Bush Theatre, is a shocking, smart and filthy satire written by Caroline Horton. Warning – there is quite a bit of nudity.

It is a microcosm of a so-called ‘tax haven’ where finances are offshore, taxes are evaded and the wicked world of plutocracy thrives. Yet on the surface, it may not seem like this but simply a physical theatre play inspired by the French school of Jacques Lecoq, and you wouldn’t be wrong to think that.

Horton, writer of Islands and actress who plays Mary, deliberately chose a clownish ‘bouffon’ character, which she learnt about in Ecole Philippe Gaulier to draw out the mocking and sarcastic humour of the deeper political issue. And it is no surprise that Islands’ director Omar Elerian also trained at Jacques Lecoq International Theatre School, which prizes itself in clownery and miming studies.

Mary, Swill and Agent retell the audience of the benefits of living in Shitworld where they are master of their destinies and cash flow. They choose two bog standard humans called Adam (Simon Startin) and Eve (Hannah Ringham) who live their lives in an everyday mundane manner. Yet after some grand sweeping convincing to join them on the island, through funky songs on the cello and keyboard and strange gyrating dancing, the couple get sucked into the island’s ethos of nonchalance – that is until Eve gets tempted by eating the cherries. Like a parody to the bible Eve gives into her inner desire and eats the fruits despite what God commands. Mary tells Eve to leave the island as she had broken a rule of the island society while Adam naively stays. Yet later on Eve gets her revenge and audiences are left to stew on what should happen next.

So what do the cherries represent? Is it money, greed, curiosity or the blood of the innocent taxpayers? Undeniably Horton’s script is a lucid unravelling of an international tax issue that affects everyone, which unfortunately has been swept under the carpet. With recorded speeches of David Cameron, Margaret Thatcher, Barack Obama and George Osborne as well as a short scene recreating TV sitcom West Wing there is more than enough references for the audience to learn from.

Horton is brilliant as a humorous and fearless little god. Biddle and Davies triumph too with enthusiasm and energy. Startin’s character was slightly docile in comparison, but he did his best to present an ignorant and silly Adam while calamity Ringham depicted a come-back goody like Edgar from King Lear, but only the female version.

Islands is a smorgasbord of theatrical mediums; poetry, song, physical theatre, miming, audio clips and obscure physical theatre, which deals with a highly contentious debate through a simple plot. Admittedly six people left in the first thirty minutes of the show, perhaps, for its zaniness and lack of corporate suits. But whoever said that directors could only produce theatre about tax in a boardroom setting?

3 Star Review

Review by Mary Nguyen

ISLANDS by Caroline Horton will receive its world premiere at the Bush Theatre in January 2015. It is a dark comedy exploring the impact of tax havens, avoidance and evasion around the world. Directed by Omar Elerian, Associate Director at the Bush, Islands mixes sharp, angry satire with grotesque physical humour to create a unique and unsettling black comedy.

15th January to 21st February 2015
ISLANDS by Caroline Horton
Directed by Omar Elerian
Cast: Hannah Ringham, Simon Startin, John Biddle, Seiriol Davies, Caroline Horton
Designed by Oliver Townsend

Bush Theatre
7 Uxbridge Road, London, W12 8LJ
Box Office: 020 8743 5050

Performance times:
Mon to Sat at 7.30pm
2.30pm Saturday matinees (from 24th January 2015)
2.30pm Wednesday matinees (from 28th January 2015)

Tuesday 20th January 2015


  • Neil Cheesman

    First becoming involved in an online theatre business in 2005 and launching londontheatre1.com in September 2013. Neil writes reviews and news articles, and has interviewed over 150 actors and actresses from the West End, Broadway, film, television, and theatre. Follow Neil on Twitter @LondonTheatre1

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2 thoughts on “Review of Islands at the Bush Theatre London”

  1. Very disappointing dull play, sadly won’t be getting that 2 hours of my life back. Or the £20 I paid for the ticket. Woke up this morning still totally perplexed as to why the Adam character needed to take his clothes off. Gratuitously vulgar, I hope the performers enjoyed themselves at least!

  2. The cast were engaging, energetic and immersed in their parts.
    They gave 110 per cent.
    But I found this piece staccato, lacking in narrative and exhausting
    to watch. So I left during the interval. I had a feeling that the effort
    required to make it meaningful was not going to be rewarded. I think
    everyone else went back for the second half the evening I went.
    And the seats are too short from front to back, and uncomfortable
    after a while.
    I am fond of this theatre as a place to meet friends, eat and drink. The
    coffee, food and service are excellent. It is pleasant and relaxing
    to be in.
    I wish the Bush Theatre well, but maybe the drama is out of my comfort zone and I am just too old for it (late sixties).

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