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Review: Islander - A new musical at Pip Theatre

Review by Mikaela O’Sullivan

Stewart Melton’s Islander a new musical with music and lyrics by Finn Anderson, is an enchanting musical that is performed beautifully by Passion Productions. The musical is directed by Connor Clarke and his assistant director, Claire Argente. This new and exciting musical engulfs its audience into the stormy seas of an island near Scotland with staging, music, lighting, sound, set design, costumes, movement and incredible performances. A high level of professionalism and musicality can be seen throughout. Passion Productions’ performance of Islander is filled with comedic moments, flawless vocals and really captures the true art of storytelling.

Islander introduces a curious girl, Eilidh who is played in this performance by Ellie Dawson. On an Island near Scotland, Eilidh has wild dreams of life beyond its shores and what she may find on the mainland. Eilidh has a strong relationship with her grandmother and there are many comedic scenes throughout the show that show Eilidh’s playful nature. A stranger named Aaron appears on the beach, who in this performance was played by Paige McKay. When the pair's worlds collide Eilidh quickly learns some folklore of the tides and the whales that roam the seas. A magical journey of friendship is explored throughout the performance, with both characters learning a lot about each other “Strange land animal - its a car”. As well as these two main characters, it must be added that throughout the performance the actors play 26 characters with effortless transitions between each one. Both actors did an incredible job at portraying Scottish accents and really engaging with the flow of both the text and the lyrical melodies. Both actors engaged really well with the audience giving strong eye contact which helped to make us feel as if we were locals around the village. The movement of both actors was energetic and as the show was set in the round, calculated movements were very effective in making the audience feel a part of the action at all times.

Islander features magical, Scottish folk/pop music with beautiful storytelling in both the lyrics and the looping of melodies, harmonies and sound effects. The live recording of melodies and harmonies was extremely interesting to watch and was effective in evoking the building of tension and emotion, of both high and low moments in the show, with the music interacting playfully with the plot. Melodies and harmonies were interweaved throughout with explosive moments of antiphonal call and response features, indicating passion and flurry. Both actors had incredible vocals and breathing technique with a lovely balance between soft classical and airy folk style tones to full musical theatre style belts. The actors themselves became the orchestra and the technicians all at once and this worked really well. Many sound effects were made throughout the performance ranging from whale sounds made by a low drone style hum, a slow rolling of the tongue to create the sound of a boat engine and blowing on the tip of a microphone to indicate gusts of wind in a storm. These sound effects were looped to create an ongoing, surround sound feel and helped to set the mood for each scene.

The set and the lighting design must be applauded and mentioned for this performance. The show was performed in the round giving an intimate feeling from the very start. The set was playful with fish nets hanging from the rig and pieces of fabric to indicate the coastal village. Suitcases scattered throughout the set highlighted the idea that many people in the village dream of life beyond the island and many leave for hopes of a better quality of life in the mainland. Pieces of fishnet and fabric were also added to the railings of the audience seating rig which I thought was a really subtle way of connecting the audience with the stage and the world of the musical. Sea shells and rocks flanked areas of the stage to give that coastal feel and while the design was simple, it was so effective. The lighting design for the show consisted of a predominantly blue colour palette which really complimented both the set and the location in which Islander is set. The lighting shining through the fishnets over the stage really helped to give an enchanting and mystical look which was powerful and evocative. Moments such as the storm scene were vivid with the combination of sound and flashes of light and deep blue hues indicating lightning and stormy seas.

Islander by Passion Productions is a true masterclass in musical theatre and technical theatre. This performance gave me the best kind of goosebumps and whether you enjoy musicals, drama or even technical theatre alone - this is a production that most definitely should not be missed. I can confidently say that this has been one of the best shows I have seen in a long long time and I really hope that Passion Productions continue to bring their passion to the world of the arts in the near future, it was evident that true passion and a love of the arts was put into this production from start to finish and a big congratulations to the cast and production team for a wonderful production. As a theatre maker myself, this production gives me great hope for the future of theatre and how music technology should be utilised in the dramatic arts.

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