The Italia Conti Ensemble changes its membership every year as another cohort passes through the famous drama school. Hence, they are subject to highs and lows; from the group that won The Broadway Baby Bobby Award for The Laramie Project in 2017 to the those who surely left with regrets in 2015 for choosing to do Pam Gems’ Piaf. The cast of This Island’s Mine join the latter group for a tedious production of Philip Osment’s play, making a double whammy for director Sue Colgrave who was also responsible for the aforementioned Piaf.
The humour is underplayed and the tragedy rarely moving
The play dates from 1988. Although it’s themes of homophobia, racism, social isolation and AIDS at times seem a little dated, it faithfully reflects the Thatcherite period out of which it arose. It was recently revived at the King’s Head, Theatre, Islington. Osment passed away shortly after the opening night, having managed to see it despite his ill health. That production was well received, indicating that it can still be successfully mounted despite the passage of time.
The work is a labyrinth of interconnected stories with multiple characters, making it ideally suited to a large cast, such as this ensemble. The various scenarios indicate the extent to which the issues impinge on the lives of people in so many walks of life and from diverse backgrounds. The play should be packed with movement, dynamism and energy, the original requiring a cast half the size of this one to take on all the roles. This production easily spreads the load and in so doing slows down the pace. The writing is of little help here, as much of it is third person narrative interspersed with dialogue. It’s conducive to falling asleep, as one might listening to an audio book, if not delivered with vigour, which here it’s not.
It’s the scenes featuring Miss Rosenblum’s cat, Vladimir, that provide some physicality and amusing relief from the formulaic Italia Conti style and the sliding accents that stretch on a circuitous route from one side of the Atlantic to another without seeming to settle anywhere. The humour is underplayed and the tragedy rarely moving.
Overall it has the feel of a devised piece from high school students rather than a fully-fledged work from a decent playwright.