Review: Islander, Southwark Playhouse

The magic of musical theatre distilled into two voices, Islander is another success for British musicals at the Southwark Playhouse

“What would they have to say to us?”

Ever with my finger on the pulse, I made it to the final performance of Edinburgh hit musical Islander at the Southwark Playhouse. Conceived and directed by Amy Draper, with music and lyrics by Finn Anderson and book by Stewart Melton, it’s an inventive take on Scottish folklore that revels and rejoices in the power of both storytelling and music.

Kirsty Findlay and Bethany Tennick are hypnotically engaging as they open the show singing unaccompanied at first, and then layering in harmonies, counter-melodies, percussion and sound effects through electronic looping and not an instrument to be seen. It’s a truly magical way of constructing a soundscape that is both arresting and affecting (and technologically so intriguing, I could have gone again just to watch how their computer panel worked!)

The story they weave is a captivating one too. Eilidh lives on a remote Scottish islands with her gran and is the last child living there as most everyone else has left for the mainland. The community left behind are debating their future but Eilidh is preoccupied with the whale she’s found beached on the shore and Arran, the stranger she meets soon after. The pair excel humourously in portraying any number of local oddballs with wit and warmth and as the mood turns darker and more mystical, they carry us with them through the swirlig depths.

And it feels appropriate that this show should be in the Little at the Southwark Playhouse, where The Curious Case of Benjamin Button broke my heart so thorooughly a few months ago. As juggernauts like Mary Poppins, & Juliet and Dear Evan Hansen line up to open in the West End, Islander (and Button) proves a salutary reminder both of the power in intimacy and of the wide range of influences the UK can draw on to create exceptional new musical theatre. More please!

Running time: 70 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Ali Wright
Islander is booking at the Southwark Playhouse until 26th October

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