Island State

Fri 22nd February 2013


Patty McCabe

at 10:58 on 23rd Feb 2013



The year is 2046. Images of the old world flash across a screen at the back of the stage and two people sit trapped on a tiny Island as the sea level rises around them and their food disappears tin by tin. It soon appears that the basics of survival are not their only problems; Marilyn and Josie are about as compatible as a block of concrete and a cheese grater! Dom Riley’s Island State is a quirky, dark and ultimately surprising tale of Marilyn and Josie’s survival that never left one wanting.

It would be unjust to describe the script as anything other than superb. Often with student-written plays one can often finds that they can succumb to moments of pretentious preaching, especially with a plot line such as this. Riley’s dialogue, however, was perfectly refined and manages to balance the light humour and the darker moments within the narrative. The humour was never forced and the audience found themselves in stitches during such moments when Josie informs us that Palin was assassinated during her presidency, or when Marilyn convinces the naïve teenager that ‘skanky, jumped up bitch’ is a term of endearment. It was these quips that leant the sinister points their credibility in a script that beautifully captured the erraticism of human nature in extreme circumstances.

Riley’s seamless script was held together by the flawless acting talents of Grace Cheatle (Marilyn) and Elissa Churchill (Josie). Josie’s innocence, much to her credit and the strength of the script, was never puerile or irritating but endearing, especially in the face of Marilyn’s often mordant wit. Cheatle never shied away from the complexity of Marilyn’s character and she handled her tumultuous development convincingly. I liked that Marilyn did not develop in a linear fashion. She did not transform from a caustic, cold character to one who had been softened by Josie’s insistence on the innate goodness of mankind. Rather, her development was full of falls, each time seemingly steeper than the last, which made the play’s warmly optimistically conclusion all the more surprising.

The stark and simple setting served to emphasise the strength of the script and characterisation. The use of the projection screen reminded the audience of the world that had been lost. Coupled with the constant references to ‘God Save the King’, tennis and good old British parliamentary democracy, it created the sense that these things were never really lost as long as you had people to embody them – something which Marilyn slowly realises as the play progresses. The only flaw in this performance was Cheatle’s stumble off the stage. For such a seasoned talent as Cheatle, however, recovery from this minor trip was effortless.

Island State is a perfect illustration of the reason I love Durham Drama festival. The script was quirky, witty and unpretentious yet still maintained its complexity. Cheatle and Churchill accepted the challenges that the script posed, delivering performances that stitched together both the humour and the darker elements which turned the play into a striking portrayal of human nature and all its intricacies. When the performance ended, I was left with a sense that I had been extremely privileged to witness such a feat of student theatre and of course, the play’s most enduring lesson – never mention the ‘C’ word!


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