Some people take comfort in the circular nature of life. We’re born, we live, we die; that’s a cycle. There’s the water cycle and the carbon cycle we’re taught at school, we draw little circular diagrams of eco systems, we draw pictures of the insides of trunks of trees, it’s way we learn about our world and the way it works. But when you live inside a smaller circle, inside a ring road that goes round and round and round, nothing coming into the centre and no way of leaving, it’s not a comfort, it’s a trap.

Kate, Sam and Pete are stuck in an “island town”, a “dead town” in the middle a ring road that they cannot see beyond. Pete dreams of a family, Sam dreams of a flat, and when Kate isn’t thinking of her next can of cider or hit from one-eyed Steve, she dreams of speeding away on a road leading to anywhere, so what’s stopping them? It feels as if the town won’t let them go…

Island Town could literally be anywhere as writer Simon Longman has succeeded in creating an environment that is utterly anonymous, somewhere you could just speed past without even acknowledging it exits. This ghostly sense is present in Dominic Kennedy’s sound design which gives a strange echo to their words, Tom Davis’ lighting design which sees a strange white haze hang in the air and cold, white and blue, as though it’s a place that never warms up. Their combined technical achievements weave a special kind of ghostly magic.

a special kind of ghostly magic.

Their choreographed movements between scenes, see the performers spin and jerk as though buffeted about by the winds, utterly vulnerable to the forces around them. Years slip by in these mysterious moments. Kate grips the outline of a steering wheel… It’s enough to leave a prickle at the back of the neck, and it’s one that will remain with you long after you have left. Perhaps it will even return the next time you’re on a ring road.

a prickle at the back of the neck… that will remain with you Long after you have left

But Katherine Pierce, Charlotte O’Leary and Jack Wilkinson’s performances are anything but ghostly. Pierce delivers her performance as Kate as though she is burning up, spitting flames at anyone who passes close enough. It is a performance that is both mesmerising and exhausting to watch, how can one person have so much anger bottled up inside and not burst apart entirely? Wilkinson brings a bubbling energy to Pete’s relentless optimism, whilst O’Leary brings a stillness to Sam that seethes with sadness and worry, under her calmer (than Kate, at least) exterior.

Island Town is a play about the perils of going nowhere, and yet with Paines Plough’s Roundabout, their ingenious touring theatre, it will see many towns across the country. It’s a cycle I hope continues.


Roundabout, Summerhall, Aug 18, 20, 22-24, 26. Times vary.


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