The Island review at the Dukes, Lancaster – ‘sensitively performed’
As a denunciation of apartheid, there’s surely nothing in theatre as consciousness-raising as the re-enactment of the Antigone-Creon trial scene at the end of The Island.
The play was first performed illegally before a mixed race audience at the Space Theatre in Cape Town in July 1973. The fusion of reworked ancient Greek drama and red hot political defiance when two prisoners on Robben Island, John and Winston, perform the scene at a camp concert, still resonates.
Even post-apartheid, revisiting this blending of Sophocles’ white Eurocentrism with black African struggle reveals truths about justice and revenge and how political objectives might be achieved by cultural means.
In John Terry’s new production the contest between onstage protagonists and offstage oppressors is confined to a harshly lit raised platform. This could be a boxing ring or an island of resistance surrounded by a sea of faces – here mostly white – which makes it impossible not to feel the emotional impact of Mark Springer as John and Edward Dede as Winston working so intimately together.
Between them, they create a sinewy sense of solidarity against an inhuman system, even finding a vein of humour when Winston resists frocking-up as Antigone.
But the production as a whole is too slow. It needs to keep the pace up. And considering we’re watching incarcerated men of action endure the murkiest extremes of state-sponsored abuse, everything tends to look squeaky clean – even their Y-fronts are spotless.