This Island’s Mine: Interview with Toby Hulse from Roustabout Theatre
Writer and director of This Island’s Mine
Award winning theatre company Roustabout is busy in rehearsals for its latest show for young people, schools and families, This Island’s Mine. We caught up with the play’s writer and director, Toby Hulse, to find out what to expect…
What’s the play about?
Imagine three characters, Ariel, Caliban, and Stephano, all on the same tropical island, all believing that they can call the island their home. The play is essentially a debate between these three, to try and work out who has the right to live there. It explores very pressing and contemporary issues about land rights, colonisation, and national identity.
Sounds very serious!
Well, the themes we explore and the questions we raise are serious, but the way we do it is much more light-hearted. The show is full of jokes, magic, songs, and comic routines, without ever losing sight of, or trivialising, what we are talking about.
The characters’ names seem familiar…
Yes, well spotted! Ariel, Caliban, and Stephano are all characters from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. Our show is a sequel to that play, five years after Prospero has returned to Milan. We have looked at the characters from a twenty-first century perspective, so that Ariel becomes one of the first peoples, Caliban a second generation immigrant, and Stephano an economic migrant.
So do you need to know The Tempest to understand This Island’s Mine?
Not at all. Our play is completely self-contained. But, if you do know Shakespeare’s play, there are all sorts of other ways of enjoying This Island’s Mine. It covers many of the same themes as The Tempest – colonisation, civilisation, the nature/nurture debate – and has some very interesting and unusual perspectives on the characters. And, don’t worry, our play is in modern English, not blank verse!
Who is the play for?
We are touring to theatres and arts centres, and to schools. In schools we are playing to audiences in KS2 and above, so that’s students over the age of seven. In theatres we are looking forward to having a wonderfully mixed audience of children, young adults and grown ups. Roustabout’s aim when making shows is to create work that is genuinely intergenerational. One of my favourite theatre moments ever was overhearing audience members talking during One Small Step, our play about the first moon landing. A father leaned over to his children, who were sitting next to their granddad, and said ‘I remember when I was your age going out into the garden with your granddad, being shown the moon, and told that there were humans walking on it right now.’
Has COVID interfered with the making of This Island’s Mine?
What has COVID not interfered with?! I first started working on the play in autumn 2019, going into schools to talk and work with young people of the age of our target audience. This time was invaluable, and gave me a strong sense of their understanding and concerns about these important but highly challenging issues. The ideas and thoughts those young people shared with me have directly influenced the writing of the play. This research led to a period of development with actors in the Studio of Tobacco Factory Theatres in Bristol, in late February 2020, and then a first draft of the script. We were just beginning to organise and book the tour when the country went into lockdown and everything went on hold. Luckily we have been able to pick it all up again, and some very interesting things have happened to the script since March 2020.
First, spending so much time at home has made us all very aware of where we live and how important it is to us. Secondly, the Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in June 2020, the reflections that they led to, and, of course, here in Bristol, the toppling of the Colston Statue, have thrown the issues explored in the play into stark contrast. We have found young people exceptionally keen to talk about these things, very well-informed, and articulate in their views, and This Island’s Mine is becoming a key part of that debate. Ultimately I think that this is what theatre does very well, both in our times and in Shakespeare’s – it raises questions, stimulates conversations, and gives us a place to explore and debate.
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