The second of the RSC's Mischief Festival, which celebrates new pieces of writing, is "O, Island!" by Nina Segal. Set in a "medium-size village somewhere outside the M25", the play explores the affect of a flood on local residents, as a river bursts its banks and cuts them off from the rest of the country (leaving the village as an 'island'), and is clearly a commentary on our current political situation.
The play begins with local MP Leonard (Alex Bhat) being thrown out of the village by the residents as they decide they want someone more competent in charge. Leonard is portrayed as an over-the-top caricature, clearly based on Boris Johnson, who is annoying to watch. I think the audience collectively breathed a sigh of relief when Leonard was thrown out - but maybe that was the point. Similar to the demise of Boris Johnson - we all looked forward to who was next. Surely they wouldn't be as bad. Right...?
Enter Margaret (Linda Broughton), a seemingly sweet old lady who is elected by the villagers as their new leader. Supported by father and son team Mick (Tim Treloar) and Laurie (Joe Barber), she quickly becomes a dictator, choosing to rule with fear, using Mick to threaten people with guns and taking children away from single mother Vi (Jade Ogugua).
The play is extremely far-fetched. The situation is just not believable - the fact that the government wouldn't step in to help the villagers and would just allow Margaret's reign of terror to continue is ridiculous. One could overlook this if the characters were realistic, but they aren't. Every character (with the exception, perhaps, of Laurie) is played as a caricature, making the whole production feel farcical.
The transition of Margaret from trustworthy pensioner to tyrannical ruler happens far too quickly. This change could be more drawn out, more interesting, a true exploration of how dictators manage to get into power and bend people to their will. Instead, the play feels like a new version of 'Lord of the Flies', just without the depth.
The end of the play culminates in a ridiculous (and frankly boring) scene as journalist Inge (Anna Andresen) is held hostage in a bathtub by Margaret. Why was she in a bath? I don't know. Maybe there's some clever symbolism here, but I didn't see it, and to be honest, by this point I was so disengaged with the production that I didn't really care.
The acting was fine - in fact, I especially enjoyed Treloar and Barber's characters and thought they had an interesting relationship. But the core story was weak. Good acting cannot save a bad script. Not the RSC's finest moment.
'O, Island!' plays at The Other Place in Stratford-Upon-Avon until 5th November. More info here: https://www.rsc.org.uk/o-island
Tom Morley, October 2022