This Island’s Mine
Written by Mark Sands, Producer of This Island’s Mine
The title of the play is so powerful – This Island’s Mine. What an emotive declaration! The irony is – given the current political climate – it could equally be a rallying cry for both those who have moved to this country and those that were born here.
Playwright, Philip Osment wrote, in his introduction to the published play in 1989, he wanted to write a play about people who feel they are exiles in their own country and to draw links between them. So relevant today given the rise in anti-immigration feelings. Brexit has brought that to the fore.
This Island’s Mine is quite unlike anything I’ve read or seen. The scope of it in terms of storytelling is epic and yet it’s told with such gentle humanity and beauty. The play flows in and out of time, place and character and there are echoes that run through it – the things people say, do and experience – that it’s almost like the play sings to you.
And yet, it’s a straightforward coming out story set in the 80s covering themes of love, regret, hope and heartache. It was a time of Clause 28, Margaret Thatcher and too many deaths from AIDS. When I saw the original in 1988 it had a huge impact on me – both as a gay man coming out and as a someone interested in theatre – and that’s never left me and it still resonates today.
All these years later, as a white gay man from a working class background outside of London, I don’t feel part of today’s dominant culture. I spend the majority of my life feeling like an outsider continually trying to break through and this has more to do with my class roots rather than being white, gay or male.
More generally though, I think white gay men are widely represented across various cultural platforms and we are more visible than we’ve ever been. That’s a positive direction and is a change that has happened over the last 30 years and more.
However, we’re still talking about white men and in these terms we’ve always been part of dominant culture and that’s an imbalance. There’s still a long way to go for women and those from non-white backgrounds and we should still be championing these voices.
I’ve been wanting to do This Island’s Mine since I saw the original 31 years ago, but it takes time to be in a position to actually do that. Ardent Theatre Company, which Andrew Muir and I set up, were aiming to do it last year to mark the actual 30th anniversary of the original, but venue scheduling and funding just didn’t align in time. We missed it by one year! The company was set up to make theatre a place where no-one feels like an outsider.
As a producer, I am ultimately responsible for every aspect of the production. In practical terms, than means finding the play, securing the funding, finding a venue, assembling the best possible team, overseeing marketing and managing the finances. The key is of course getting the best people for the various roles so that you start delegating. I love the moment on the first day of rehearsals when you know everything is in place and the team disappear into the rehearsal room. It’s an amazing feeling of satisfaction and the focus then becomes about selling tickets and keeping spend on track.
This Island’s Mine is an impassioned title and the fact that we’re still having discussions about who should and shouldn’t ‘belong’ here shows that in some ways we haven’t moved on very far.
The reason for choosing to do This Island’s Mine is because there’s a real gap that this play fulfils. For a start it tells stories of both Lesbian and Gay characters in one play, whereas a lot of current queer theatre tends to segregate audiences by gender.
There’s also huge value in looking back at where we’ve come from and appreciating the hard fought rights we mostly enjoy in this country.
A lot has happened for LGBT people in the last 30 years – with the equal age of consent, the scrapping of Section 28, the inclusion of sexual orientation in discrimination law, and equal marriage. But, you only have to look at some of the recent events in Birmingham, the rise in homophobic hate crime and the large percentage of homeless people who are LGBT to see there is still a long way to go.
By turning to history – to the Holocaust, to slavery, to the experiences of the Windrush generation – we remember the past so these things are never again repeated. It’s important we do the same with the LGBT community, to learn lessons about our past so as to inform decisions on how we live and behave in the future.
This Island’s Mine is a play that speaks beautifully about our shared experience and tells a tale of coming out, finding love, fighting back and feeling proud. It will genuinely touch you – something that bucks the trend of current LGBT theatre and goes part of the way to achieving our vision to bring outsiders in.
Photography: Adam Bennett and Jimmy Lee
Artwork: Curtis Holder