The Island, Young Vic - review

Published: Monday, November 18, 2013 4:13 PM | Review by: Sophia A Jackson |
The Island Jimmy Akingbola and Daniel Poyser The Island - Photo by Richard Hubert Smith

Now in its 40th year, South African playwright, Athol Fugard created The Island during apartheid. Directed by JMK award-winner, Alex Brown, the short piece is set on Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 27 years and is based on true stories.

Feelings of jealousy and confinement collide with feelings of excitement and freedom as the two come to terms with how their lives are about to change for good


As we take our seats, Winston Ntshona (Jimmy Akingbola) and John Kani (Daniel Poyser) are toiling with wheelbarrows of sand, as beads of sweat gather on their foreheads. They repeat the emptying and filling of the wheelbarrows many, many times and continue for a few minutes after the play starts.


The set design (Holly Pigott) in the Young Vic’s The Clare studio space is simple, yet effective. A small raised wooden stage represents the prison cell shared by Winston and John. Sand underneath and around the cell depicts ‘The Island’. We learn that the prison mates have forged a strong bond over the last few years – the kind of friends who mock and annoy each other but share the anguish and tensions of prison life.


Effective use of lighting (Richard Howell) smoothly takes scenes from night to day - with Winston and John rehearsing the tragic Greek play, Antigone that they will perform in front of their fellow prison mates in a matter of days. The rehearsal scenes provide much merriment right up until they actually perform the play – full of drama and over acting.


Oppression and the tensions of prison life are the ties that bind, one of them is in for life, and the other will be released in 90 days. Feelings of jealousy and confinement collide with feelings of excitement and freedom as the two come to terms with how their lives are about to change for good.


The Island Jimmy Akingbola and Daniel Poyser The Island - Photo by Richard Hubert Smith

Jimmy Akingbola and Daniel Poyser’s performance in this two-hander is top notch – with both clearly reaching to the depths of their souls to truly immerse themselves in their characters and portrayal of brotherhood. There were times where I felt overwhelmed with emotion imagining what life must have been like on Robben Island as this play is told through the eyes of former inmates; it’s hard not to compare their plight with that of Nelson Mandela.


It’s no wonder that The Island sold-out long before it’s short run opened but if you can get to see this brilliant production, please do.


Info: The Island is at the Young Vic until November 30, 2013 (SOLD OUT but day tickets available)


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