is why theatre exists. Islands in the Stream is imagination
distilled. It is a wonderfully, sublimely weird work about
the sea and water and the things on it and in it. The bald,
pale, lean, androgynous cast of two men and two women dance
the parts of swaggering sailors, badminton playing passengers,
new lovers, playing children and tormented hunchbacks to a
score that is sometimes beautiful, sometimes purely terrifying.
With sparse staging, expressive lighting and superlative performances,
the audience are left on the edge of their seats, open-mouthed.
The practically naked performers have a dressing up box of
skirts, hats and sackcloth hunchback costumes that they slip
in and out of with almost filmic speed.
Sometimes the action is on top of a ship’s deck, with subtly
hilarious clowning. But sometimes, somewhere deeper, there
is painful, confusing torment. The humour is wonderful, understated
and bizarre, with two-dimensional luminescent fish, ships
on sticks and cartoon-like characters weaving their way through
the dream-like atmosphere. It’s an intense, sensual experience,
which prompts both smiles and goosebumps.
Derevo means “tree” in Russian. They are from St Petersburg,
and are something of a movement rather than a simple theatre
company. Islands in the Stream has its own identity card on
the press release, with a date of birth and “special peculiarities”:
it “avoids sunlight” and “wears big boots”. Such self-conscious
surrealism could be pretentious, but there is such obvious
love and belief in this work that in a funny way it rings
true. As a rather mysterious voiceover says at the end, the
players - they avoid the word actors - are “admirable and
lovable”, and the pleasure they take from the performance
is palpable and infectious.
Essentially, it is charming, ingenious and indescribable.
You have to see it.