Islands is a bit madcap. Caroline Horton's play, which she stars in, was commissioned by the Warwick Arts Centre and the Harlow Playhouse, and is a blatant, angry attack that explores the decadent, exploitative world of tax havens. The story charts events in Haven, an island floating above the real world (referred to as 'shitworld'). Haven's inhabitants are grotesque creatures who obsess over their own pleasures, but their way of life is challenged both by two newcomers and by events in the financial world.

The play effectively charts the financial crash and examines how, after briefly panicking, the super rich, particularly in the UK, simply turned their problems into the public's problem.

This production is deeply challenging, extremely entertaining and a little gross. The performers are dedicated to bringing the audience into their superbly created world. Audience members are frequently addressed, and an in-the-round set-up leaves us totally unable to be more than a couple of metres away from the action at any time. You cannot avoid being drawn in. Deeply uncomfortable scenes of sexual violence are used to analogise exploitation. Disturbing violence is shown to represent potential revolution. It's a brilliant, difficult play.

The narrative is unveiled using many methods on top of scene acting: song, game show and newsreel parodies as well as radio show parodies are all used to deliver information, keeping us interested and slightly bewildered.

This narrative is an interesting mixture of parable story and bare-faced lecture. The play effectively charts the financial crash and examines how, after briefly panicking, the super rich, particularly in the UK, simply turned their problems into the public's problem, causing the austerity that we are now experiencing. The seedy, disturbing, extremely funny song on this subject essentially states this outright.

More subtly however, we see the trials of the character Eve, which mirror the trials of everyone who wants into the affluent world of high finance. Like many others like her, Eve is ultimately exploited by the people she works for. Direct quotes from Thatcher and various capitalist and Neo-liberalist influences are placed into the play, and remind us that we're talking about the real world. This isn't pretend, and the fact that this play was created in consultation with the Tax Justice Network is a worrying reminder that these repulsive characters before us are parodies of the real super-rich.

But Islands faces the same problem that repulsive, blatant plays have faced before it: it risks alienating its audience. The message is telling us to wake up, and clearly suggests that etiquette and sensibilities are used to keep us from fully realising the extent to which we are exploited. Some people may find this play unnecessarily shocking, but hopefully most will see its brilliance. 

Reviews by Andrew Forbes

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The Blurb

Islands – an obscene, ink-black comedy about tax havens, greed and the few who have it all. Olivier nominee Caroline Horton (Chrissy, Mess, Penelope Retold) and her foul ensemble plunge us into a monstrous world where no-one has to pay… for anything. Islands spits in the face of polite, political debate. Incandescent with rage, it hurls out images of the putrid end times of ultimate freedom and the rotten, violent underbelly of offshore finance. ‘The year’s most talked about piece of theatre’ (Andrew Haydon). Created in consultation with Tax Justice Network. Commissioned by Warwick Arts Centre and Harlow Playhouse.