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The Island Nation, Arcola Theatre, review: ‘A vital history lesson bogged down by stereotypes’

PUBLISHED: 15:00 08 November 2016

Ayesha Dharker in The Island Nation at the Arcola. Picture: Jon Holloway

Ayesha Dharker in The Island Nation at the Arcola. Picture: Jon Holloway

Jon Holloway

In Christine Bacon’s play, The Island Nation, amidst the blood and the murder in the North, a stark contrast existed in the South, where tourists supped on cocktails by the sandy beaches blissfully unaware of the conflict that was taking place elsewhere within its borders.

It is a common criticism that the UN exhibits a frustrating impotency in the face of abhorrent terror.

This is especially the case after the oft-cited travesty that occurred in Rwanda in 1994 and the genocide that took place there.

What is perhaps less well known is the example of Sri Lanka and its 26 year struggle with a bitter civil war.

In Christine Bacon’s play, The Island Nation, the UN once again cuts a wan figure. Amidst the blood and the murder in the North, a stark contrast existed in the South, where tourists supped on cocktails by the sandy beaches blissfully unaware of the conflict that was taking place elsewhere within its borders.

Bacon doesn’t offer explicit examples of the utopian flipside, but then she need not. The beguiling, beautiful charms of the country are famous. We know much less of the struggle.

The narratives in her play twist and contort from different perspectives. There’s the well-meaning Norwegian politician trying to negotiate peace between the factions. There’s the disenchanted British aid worker. There’s the young Tamil woman trapped in rebel-held territory.

It is a tantalising mix and a commendable attempt to portray the situation from all sides. The nagging sense remains, however, and particularly with a taut 90 minute runtime, that she has bitten off more than she can chew. The plight is plain, but the characterisation is somehow sparse.

That is not to say that this is without moments that reach out and grab you by the lapels. The direction is imbued with invention. The performances are impassioned and emotionally evocative. It is just a shame that the drama itself is occasionally a little bit leaden and bogged down by stereotypes.

Taken exclusively on the terms of being a vital history lesson though, The Island Nation is essential.


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