Review | Islander: A New Musical, Southwark Playhouse ⋆⋆⋆⋆

Two microphones, loop pedal equipment, our two performers, Kirsty Findlay and Bethany Tennick and their A Capella voices. Put them in the more intimate of the two Southwark Playhouse performance spaces in the round and what do you get?

Theatre magic.

In this show, you’re taken to an island somewhere on the Scottish coast where one community’s future is uncertain. With a shaky economy and few job opportunities, there’s been a mass outflow of people to the neighboring mainland and the islanders must decide whether they’d like to stay or go.

At its centre, we focus in on Eilidh (Bethany Tennick). Her whole family has already uprooted to the mainland yet Eilidh has opted to stay on the island. Here she pursues long distance learning and takes care of her elderly grandmother. Things take an interesting turn when she comes into contact with the mystic red haired girl, Arran (Kirsty Findlay), who’s been washed ashore.

As far as new musicals go, this production, conceived by Amy Draper, certainly feels like one of a kind.  It lightly touches on timely themes such as migration and ecological change. But the show’s focus is not to shape what you think. Rather, your imagination is freed to drift off to this far off island and you find yourself absorbed in the story-telling. This is all thanks to Bethany Tennick and Kirsty Findlay. They are best described as shape-shifters due to the way that they are both able to animate an entire community of islanders and do so without missing a beat.

One of the most intriguing elements is incorporation of live looping into the performance. In using this technology, Tennick and Findlay are able to create a variety of sounds from the whoosh of a helicopter ascending or the crash of waves during a storm, just by manipulating their voices, stomping on the ground or tapping on the microphone. The folk music, by Finn Anderson, will often begin with Tennick and Findlay singing simple melodies into the microphone without the assistance of a piano to provide pitch. They will then layer this with harmonies until the sound snowballs and takes on a life of its own. This all beautifully contributes to the unique feel of the show.

When you see something as small and intricate as this, you can’t help but marvel at how the show maintains its integrity and has not been tempted to include any flashy bells nor whistles. Islander is a triumph in story-telling and experimenting with what live theatre is capable of.

Islander: A New Musical is running at the Southwark Playhouse between 2 – 26 October at the time of writing.

Photo Credit: Ali Wright

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