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The cast of This Island's Mine © Mark Douet

This Island’s Mine at the King’s Head Theatre, Angel

20 May 2019 | Billie Manning

When it was written in 1988, Philip Osment’s This Island’s Mine was a defiant response to the passing of Section 28. 

With its decidedly positive representations of gay life – exactly what Section 28 banned – it was a revelation for many. In 2019, with gay marriage long-legalised and many sentiments changed, but with anti-LGBT protests simultaneously raging outside schools, it has been revived for the first time by director Philip Wilson and the Ardent Theatre Company
 
The play comprises a veritable web of characters facing a variety of challenges, from Mark (Tom Ross-Williams), the waiter sacked for his colleagues’ fear of AIDS, to Selwyn (Corey Montague-Sholay), his boyfriend, facing the intersection of discrimination for his sexuality and his race. There is also the story of Ms Rosenblum (Jane Bertish), a Jewish refugee who fled 1930s Vienna. But we begin the play by meeting Luke (Connor Bannister), 17 and wrestling with the idea of coming out. Luke’s decision to run away to London to stay with his uncle, Martin, is tinder to the spark of the stories that we then follow, while a staging of The Tempest, in which Selwyn is acting, is its frame.
 
Tom Ross-Williams and Corey Montague-Sholay. Credit Mark Douet. Photo by Mark Douet
Tom Ross-Williams and Corey Montague-Sholay as Mark and Selwyn © Mark Douet

As soon as it opens, to the notes of Bronski Beat, the play cuts straight to the heart of the fears and desires of 1988, and this is what makes it interesting as a historical play: it captures a moment perfectly. The house in which Martin and Ms Rosenblum live ties together the stories not just of LGBT characters but of all those denied a place in society.
 
At times the plot feels slightly bloated from the sheer number of characters, but the actors do well with it, jumping with confidence from role to role, despite a shaky accent here and there. Theo Fraser Steele’s Martin is the standout performance of the night, giving a heart-warming portrayal of self-assurance in the face of discrimination while also tickling our funny bone. He cringes when Luke chirpily calls him ‘Uncle Martin’ and kindly (but with an eye-roll) holds the drinks at the disco while Luke snogs the night away. Rachel Summers also does especially well, quick-stepping nimbly and utterly convincingly between characters, and Montague-Sholay’s turn as grumpy 10-year-old Dave has the audience more than chuckling.
 
The set (designed by director Wilson) is an unexpected bonus. The haze of the horizon, which Luke looks wistfully out towards, is reflected in the backdrop, which also brings to mind the blues of The Tempest’s wily sea, and the ‘beds’ which the actors stand in during several scenes are an inspired bit of design for bringing out the humour in some of the scenes.
 
It does overegg the pudding at times, and the portrayal of the black queer experience comes off a little cliched. But this is a slice of history that will touch the hearts of those who experienced it and those who didn’t.

This Island's Mine is at the King's Head Theatre until 8 June
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