Island State

Wed 31st July – Mon 26th August 2013


Georgina Wilson

at 20:51 on 10th Aug 2013



Take 'Lord of the Flies', mix it with 'The Day After Tomorrow' and add a little sprinkling of Margaret Atwood apocalypse… and you have something that may or may not represent the gripping genius that is 'Island State'. The two-woman play unfolds within the claustrophobic floor space of the India Buildings, Victoria Street. Surrounded on two sides by audience and an ever-rising tide, the trauma of being possibly the last two women in a destructed, destructive world is convincingly revealed.

The characters of the psychologically powerful Marilyn, (Grace Cheatle) and the blindly naïve Josie (Jess Groocock) play off one another effectively. Each teeter on the edge of a stereotype: Marilyn reaching towards her knife with a Shylockian certainty in her right to maim, Josie flounces around stage in a yellow polka dot dress prefixing every other sentence with the phrase “mummy says…”. But as the play pulls to an agonising, inevitable close, the whole audience is left gaping, wide-eyed and open-mouthed as the two characters navigate through their theatrical trappings to a horrifically naturalistic depiction of their situation.

The underlying darkness of the play is all the more effective having been built up to under the cover of the humorous misunderstandings which arise between two such utterly different women. One of my favourites of such moments is when Josie warns Marilyn away from the dangerous use of the “c” word. The liberal Edinburgh audience sat nonchalantly through Marilyn’s obvious guess of what such a word might be, which made way for the spot-on timing of Josie’s reply; “no, cannibalism. What does your word mean?” The taboo of people-eating has far more resonance in the imagined year of 2046 AD than the taboo of genitalia.

These thoughts about the potentially catastrophic future of a world polluted by humans are not absolutely originally: what does make “'sland State' unique is that it adds a further strand of interest with a satiric glance at “democracy”. Seventeen-year-old Josie can’t vote for an island leader and, without knowing the day and month, can never legitimately be eighteen. Perfect for Marilyn who takes a “landslide victory” and elects herself; the audience share a wry chuckle over this far-from-fantastical image of politics.

But ultimately it isn’t the politics or the climate change that makes this show so thoroughly entrancing - it’s the perceptive and heart-rendering image of human nature in extreme situations. Marilyn recalls when she watched a city being swept away in a flood and she was “one of the lucky ones who got to look on”. Her tones are full of bitter irony, but, with regards to watching this play, I would say precisely the same thing.


Emily Brearley-Bayliss

at 11:04 on 11th Aug 2013



Offspring of the Durham University drama scene, Quirk Productions aims to produce “new comic writing with a distinctly quirky aesthetic.” Their new venture, ‘Island State’ is a poignant exploration of human nature, and the cruel lengths to which we will go when in a state of utter desperation. By mingling what appear to be comically stereotyped characters, writer Tom Riley allows us to slowly delve deeper into the intricacies of what it is to be British, human, and ultimately what it is to survive.

Riley’s scripting and staging was certainly innovative. A mêlée of dark humour and melancholy musings gave the production an atmosphere that was wholly disconcerting. Hasty changes of mood and tone left the audience quite unsure of how to feel. The two characters: sheltered, home-schooled Josie (Jess Groocock) and the hardened, foul-mouthed Marilyn (Grace Cheatle), complimented each other in the way they clashed, and the chatty, irritating nature of Groocock’s character visibly grated on the audience as well as her on-stage companion.

The contrast between Josie’s childish innocence and Marilyn’s brutal instinct to survive served to provide an interesting commentary on the fundamental difference between people. Josie’s delusional optimism is, in fact, what prevails over Marilyn’s ruthless exterior, which is slowly broken down and eventually washes away with the rest of their world.

This play was clearly written in order to explore the possibilities that await us in a future filled with global warming and inevitable catastrophe. The aesthetics of the production, the makeshift sheet used as a background onto which to project images of our world under water, the rubbish that marked the ebb and flow of the ever-rising tide, reminded us of exactly what we stand to lose if the destruction of our planet continues.

Both girls’ talent was in fully embodying their characters; at times Cheatle seethed with an evil that revealed the warped, desperate state of her mind. Each was fully engaged with the other. However, this script is very heavily directed at the audience, aiming to reach out to us and ask the unspoken question: what would you do? How far could you be pushed? Reflecting this, therefore, required a level of interaction with the audience that was distinctly lacking.

I wanted to be drawn in, to feel trapped on that one remaining spit of land with Marilyn and Josie, but instead felt a certain detachment. Perhaps it was the vaguely unbelievable plot points which I won't reveal here. Though in my head I knew that what was happening in front of me was an incredibly moving, touching and tragic formation of friendship in the face of desolation, I remained surprisingly, but resolutely, unmoved.


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